Consider drinking coconut water to improve hydration and prevent disease. Coconut water is not the solution to all your problems as many marketing slogans claim, but it does convey some excellent therapeutic benefits. Research shows coconut water supports hydration when training hard, can lower cholesterol to the same degree as prescription drugs, improves insulin sensitivity, and lowers blood pressure.
Coconut water is naturally found inside young coconuts, and it contains a wide variety of minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates, amino acids, and enzymes. It contains negligible fatty acids compared to coconut milk, which is a liquid obtained by grating the solid inside of the coconut. Coconut oil, a third health-conveying food, is oil extracted from the meat of the mature coconut.
In a review in the journal Molecules, researchers call coconut water “a refreshing and nutritious beverage which is widely consumed due to its beneficial properties to health, some of which are based on cultural/traditional beliefs.” In remote regions coconut water is well known as an oral and intravenous rehydration solution.
Coconut Water Fame
Coconut water is famous for containing the electrolytes potassium and sodium, which are important for keeping the body properly hydrated. Potassium exists in every cell in the body, and one of its main roles is to draw water inside cells to maintain hydration. Sodium exists in the extra-cellular fluid of every cell and is also involved in drawing water into the cells. An imbalance in these two minerals can cause serious problems with hydration and adrenal fatigue.
Coconut water also provides a nice dose of vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, B vitamins, arginine, alanine, lysine, glutamic acid, and other micronutrients and enzymes that are anti-inflammatory. In 100 grams of coconut water, there are about 5 grams of carbs of which half is glucose and half is fructose.
Coconut water has received some negative press due to the aggressive marketing claims made by coconut water companies and because analysis of the chemical composition of the most popular varieties contained about half the sodium and 75 percent of the magnesium listed.
Errors in listed ingredient content are not rare in the food industry, and the main concern with coconut water is whether it is pure or diluted since you shouldn’t be relying on a beverage for all your nutrient intake needs anyway. The main advantage of drinking coconut water is that it provides extra electrolytes and antioxidants when you are training, making it useful for rehydration and great for overall health.
Exercise, Hydration, and Coconut Water
Recent studies have shown coconut water is equally as effective as straight water or a carbohydrate-electrolyte sport drink in replenishing fluids after exhaustive exercise, whereas word of mouth reports suggest it is far superior to water and sports drink options.
The most recent study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found no statistical difference between water, coconut water, and a sports drink on rehydration, heart rate, blood pressure, or performance from 90 minutes of exhaustive exercise in trained men. The coconut water did produce slightly better blood volume restoration than the other beverages. It’s possible that the benefits of coconut water would be clinically significant on hydration status and performance if it was used for hydration regularly for a longer period rather than just one time, as in this study.
Researchers note that coconut water may be preferable to sports drinks because it doesn’t contain high fructose corn syrup or added sugar, and the electrolytes and vitamins are naturally occurring rather than added in. Plus, it has rich antioxidant properties, which aid in neutralizing reactive oxygen species produced after endurance exercise.
Antioxidant Benefits of Coconut Water
The antioxidant content in coconut water may actually be one of its greatest benefits. It contains a wealth of micronutrients such as inorganic ions and vitamins that enhance the natural antioxidant system of the body. These micronutrients act directly in the body to quench free radicals that damage cells, or they can indirectly increase the production of antioxidant enzymes that promote the removal of damaging radicals.
These ions are also involved in the conduction of electrical impulses throughout the body. If your electrolytes are imbalanced, the muscles will not be able to contract properly, compromising performance. When this happens, the kidneys will attempt to restore electrolyte balance in the body and start to excrete more water to remove distinct excess electrolytes, making you more dehydrated.
Therapeutic Health Benefits of Coconut Water
Coconut water is widely used in the plant tissue culture industry because the micronutrient and vitamin content provides such an effective environment for growth. In cell growth studies, coconut water has been shown to have anti-aging, anti-cancer, and anti-platelet properties, meaning it prevents blood clots and can improve blood pressure.
A 2008 study in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology showed that feeding rats coconut water lowered cholesterol and lipids to the same degree as the drug lovastatin. This suggests coconut water consumed regularly is a viable alternative to prescription drugs for lowering cholesterol and improving lipid levels, especially if paired with a diet and exercise intervention.
A new study in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine showed that after negatively altering the metabolism and raising the blood pressure of rats by feeding them a fructose-rich diet, a coconut water treatment provided therapeutic effects. After feeding the rats coconut water for three weeks, blood pressure was significantly lower and cholesterol and lipid markers were much better. Insulin, glucose, and inflammatory biomarkers were also substantially reduced. Liver health was improved as well.
Coconut Water Is A Pleasant Drink
For best results with coconut water, choose one that has no added sugar or fruit flavoring because this will add glucose and fructose to the content making it more of a fruit juice than a hydration beverage. Choose coconut water in its purest form and enjoy it in reasonable quantities. I find it a pleasant drink to use during workouts, and it is a great option for people who are resistant to drinking large volumes of water. If you choose to avoid coconut water, get electrolyte replacement packets that contain no carbs for comparable hydration benefits. These won’t provide the extra micronutrients of coconut water but they will aid hydration.
Bhagya, D., Prema, L., et al. Therapeutic Effects of Tender Coconut Water on Oxidative Stress in Fructose fed Insulin Resistant Hypertensive Rats. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine. 2012. 5(4), 270-276.
Sandhya, V., Rajamohan, T. Comparative Evaluation of the Hypolipidemic Effects of Coconut Water and Lovastatin in Rats Fed Fat-Cholesterol Enriched Diet. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 2008. 46(12), 3586-3592.
Kalman, D., Feldman, S., et al. Comparison of Coconut Water and a Carbohydrate-Electrolyte Sport Drink on Measures of Hydration and Physical Performance in Exercise-Trained Men. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2012. 9(1).
Yong, J., Ge, L., et al. The chemical Composition and Biological Properties of Coconut Water. Molecules. 2009. 14, 5144-5164.