Over the last few years, several plants or natural foods that have previously existed for millions of years have entered the limelight as “superfoods”, foods with extreme nutritional strength that everybody should eat.
One of the most hailed examples lately is coconut water, which has exploded in popularity as a natural post-workout drink and is often coined as “nature’s Gatorade”. It all started back in World War 2, when according to one old tale, doctors giving blood transfusions to wounded soldiers realised they’d run out of saline solution to replenish their blood electrolytes.
In a last ditch attempt to save their troops they tried coconut water instead, and in the process discovered that the soldiers responded extremely well. This led to coconut water being dubbed as having an equal nutritional profile to human blood, or being a “blood replacement” and some gym rats caught on and theorised that it would have an optimal profile of nutrients for replenishing the electrolytes (sodium and potassium) lost in sweat.
Hence, coconut water became a popular post-workout drink but since then the public at large has caught on. Over the last few years sales of coconut water have rocketed; sales of the Vita Coco brand went from $4 million in 2007 to $20 million in 2009.
Coconut water is believed to aid detoxification and be the most hydrating liquid on planet earth. Most importantly it’s now getting celebrity endorsements for enhancing skin tone.
Is it true, or is it nothing but crafty marketing hype? The truth is that a dodgy diet is by far the biggest cause of acne (diet is about ten times as important as hygiene). Could coconut water clear acne as well?
The acne nutrition is overrated
First of all, to become a true expert, you need to know what coconut water actually is. When you eat a whole coconut for its flesh, you first have to get a hammer or a screwdriver to pierce the “eye” on the outside of the shell, otherwise you can never access the inside of the shell.
Before you then rip the nut apart however, you first must pour out the clear watery liquid from within. THIS is coconut water; it’s very different from coconut milk, which is a combination of coconut water and the coconut flesh mashed up into a liquid.
Young coconuts with a green shell contain a dramatically higher water content compared to older brown hairy ones. You might have seen pictures of Thai holiday makers sucking water out of green coconuts with a straw. That’s the coconut water they’re enjoying.
South East Asian people have been drinking coconut water for thousands upon thousands of years but only nowadays has coconut water spread to the West. It’s sold in bottled form, having been manufactured in South East Asia.
But is it really nutritious at all for acne? The answer is yes – coconut water does contain decent amounts of acne minerals like magnesium and potassium.
However, the amounts are too low to make the high price of drinking a bottle of coconut water per day worth it for acne.
Consider the quantities of acne minerals and acne vitamins in coconut water per 240 gram cup:
Vitamin C – 10% of the RDA.
Magnesium – 15%.
Vitamin A – 0%.
Calcium – 6%.
Iron – 4%.
Vitamin B6 – 4%.
Vitamin E – 0%.
B12 – 0%.
Manganese – 17%.
Selenium – 3%.
Potassium – 17%.
Vitamin D – 0%.
Sugar – 6.3 grams.
As you can see there’s decent amounts of acne minerals in there. The story cooked up by manufacturers is that because coconuts grow on palm trees next to the ocean, they absorb all the plentiful nutrients found in salt water.
Coconut water looks particularly great for magnesium, a mineral which helps acne through improving sleep quality, suppressing blood levels of stress hormones, improving the insulin sensitivity of energy stores, and manufacturing glutathione. Because properly absorbed, acne-friendly sources of magnesium above 10% of the RDA are rare, this is pretty good.
However, the big flaw is the cost. Just imagine if you drank a 240 gram cup per day; if you bought the cleanest brand, Vita Coco, it would cost you over $40 per month. That’s only to obtain a small percentage of the RDA for one acne mineral. If you need magnesium you’d be far better off just buying the Ancient Minerals Magnesium Oil supplement, which would empty your wallet by $10 per month, and actually provide the full 400mg RDA every day.
Coconut water would be better value if it contained other acne nutrition. However, the 10% of the RDA for vitamin C is pretty dire considering that white potatoes, the staple carbohydrate source of Western civilisation, contains 64% of the RDA per 200 gram serving.
Even a plateful of greasy fries from McDonalds would give you way more vitamin C than coconut water. Coconut water lacks zinc, vitamin A, vitamin E, and selenium. It’s a decent source of manganese, but coconut flesh has far more, with 75% per 100 grams.
What about the post-workout nutrition? It’s mainly due to the 17% content of potassium, a mineral which is excreted and depleted through sweating. Popular workout formulas contain both potassium and sodium.
Coconut water is indeed a decent source of potassium, but the same amount can be obtained from two bananas, some potatoes, or sweet potatoes. Bananas are a particularly excellent post workout snack. Anyway, potassium has some minor roles in acne, such as in regulating inflammation, but it’s not as vital for acne as selenium or zinc.
A waste of sugar calories
Contrary to popular belief, coconut water is not drenched in sugar.
240 grams contains only 6 grams, which is only slightly more than low sugar fruits such as the strawberry or raspberry. What’s interesting is that coconut water tastes incredibly sweet when poured straight out of the coconut. I was once very weary of it for that reason. Yet somehow, nutrition tables say that it contains nearly nothing.
Nevertheless, the sugar is still enough to add to your daily totals. For clearing acne, you have a limited sugar budget; you intake would be better spent on antioxidant and acne nutrient-rich fruits such as strawberries, raspberries, pineapple, or even an apple. A few studies suggest that coconut water has strong antioxidant activity:
- This 2012 study gave mature coconut water to diabetic rats and observed a fall in oxidative stress. Levels of the antioxidant glutathione increased while markers of lipid peroxides such as malondialdehyde fell.
- This 2015 study found that coconut water prevented oxidative stress in drugged-up diabetic rats.
- This 2012 study gave rats which were previously fed a high-fructose diet tender coconut water (TCW) for three weeks. Markers of lipid peroxides fell, antioxidant enzymes increased, and there was a decent fall in blood pressure. Insulin sensitivity also increased.
However, it’s much smarter to eat sugar from fruits which have more documented antioxidant and free radical lowering powers. Fruit antioxidants also have extra powers; quercetin improves gut health, pomegranate punicalagins lower cortisol, pineapple contains bromelain which enhances protein digestion. None of the coconut water studies were on humans either.
Then there’s the fiber issue, chiefly that coconut water contains none. The sugar in fruit is far safer than that added to a can of coke because it is bound up in natural fiber structures that slow its digestion and absorption into the bloodstream where it does damage. Coconut water does not have this benefit.
When doing health research it’s common to find a series of generic looking health websites which say that any given plant-derived food is “rich in essential minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants”. Coconut water in particular is a food where websites rattle off a laundry list of the nutrients it contains tons of.
However, these websites must all be getting information from each other in a revolving door scenario, rather than looking at the raw data. Coconut water has traces of many nutrients but decent amounts of few, when it comes to the cost of keeping the diet up.
An acne-friendly sports drink?
For the price tag, the minerals in coconut water are definitely not worth it. But what if you’re a weight lifter, an aspiring athlete, or anyone that needs an energy boost?
It’s no secret that common energy drinks lead to acne; most are loaded with free floating sugar and extra sweeteners such as aspartame, which can damage your gut health.
Furthermore, brands such as “monster” energy drinks contain up to 500mg of caffeine, equivalent to 6 or 7 cups of coffee. While caffeine is safe for acne at low levels from one or two cups of organic coffee per day, that much will spike your blood cortisol levels massively and virtually guarantee pimples.
Since coconut water contains neither high levels of sugar nor caffeine, it won’t give you acne like the others.
Coconut water is an acne-friendly alternative, but the next question is whether it’s an effective alternative. Some studies are optimistic. One 2007 study found that coconut water enhanced with sodium was as effective as drinking a commercial sports drink for post-exercise rehydration. Another observed that coconut water caused less fullness, nausea, and stomach upset and was easier to consume in large quantities.
However, there’s a serious flaw: coconut water is lacking in sodium compared to commercial sports drinks. You lose a lot more sodium (salt) through sweating than any other nutrient. A nice drink full of potassium and water alone will not cut it. The lack of sodium is why despite its usage in World War 2, doctors today say that they would never consider using coconut water instead of saline. In fact, the application wasn’t widespread anyway. Coconut water was mainly used as a last resort blood transfusion in tropical areas such as Singapore, where the British and Americans were beating back the Japanese.
Some athletes using coconut water like to add sea salt to their liquid, to create the ultimate natural post work-out. This would work, but you could add sea salt to any other drink. Additionally, a sugar-laden sports drink is the one instance in which all that free floating sugar isn’t that bad for acne, because you burn it up through exercise so fast and it never gets a chance to wreak havoc.
Then there’s another problem; the price tag is still far too high. You’ll need at least a cup to get adequate amounts of potassium and water, and sodium if you pour it in. That will still come with a $40 price tag per month. In my reckoning you would be much better off bringing a couple of bananas, which have a natural wrapper and contain just as much potassium. For the sodium you can add sea salt or Himalayan salt to any drink of your choice.
A good energy drink is a homemade fruit smoothie, which will combine moderate amounts of free floating sugar with an enormous amount of acne antioxidants and phytonutrients. Add some sea salt to the mixture, and make sure the original mixture contains bananas (beetroots also have lots of potassium), and you’ve got a classic acne-friendly workout drink with no need for coconut water.
Coconut water has interesting properties for ageing
With that said, coconut water is not completely worthless. Possibly the most useful element of coconut water for acne, or rather for your skin’s appearance in general, is a little known group of plant compounds called cytokinins.
Cytokinins are phytohormones, or plant hormones, which regulate the development, aging and growth of many different plants. Coconut water contains especially high amounts of cytokinins.
Coconut water is actually a secret of traditional Chinese herbalists for watering crops and accelerating their growth. That includes orchids and traditional Chinese medical herbs. By watering plants with coconut water and the cytokinins within, herbalists can accelerate the plant’s cell growth enormously and send profits through the roof.
How is that connected to our skin? When applied to humans and other animals, cytokinins have potent anti-aging effects on cells and tissues. Treating cells with cytokininins leads to a halt in the normal degenerative processes of aging, with the result that overall aging slows down considerably. This works when applying coconut water topically, but scientists have also shown that eating a diet rich in cytokinins may have the same effect.
Coconut water is the best natural source of cytokinins. It’s possible that this anti-aging effect is one reason why celebrities are going so mad for it. Rumour has it that elite anti-aging professionals recommend coconut water to their expensive clients as well.
Even so, it seems that the coconut water has to be fresh out of the coconut. The pasteurised varieties imported, stored and sold over many weeks from Southeast Asia are likely to be sterile and useless.
Conclusion – nothing special for acne
The whole “superfood” phenomenon is not without nuggets of truth for us acne patients; kale is very high in vitamin C and vitamin A, pomegranates are rich in antioxidants like punicalagins, and broccoli contains an anti-inflammatory molecule called sulforaphane.
However, coconut water falls right into the failed superfood category alongside chlorophyll and wheatgrass.
Coconut water is not unhealthy for acne at all, with the only slight downside being 6 grams of unbound sugar. It has decent amounts of magnesium and potassium and may increase blood antioxidant levels. However, good quality (fresh, non-pasteurised, cold-processed) brands will turn you into a hobo within weeks.
Compare coconut water to sweet potatoes. By eating 400 grams of sweet potatoes every couple of days for some acne-friendly carbohydrates, you can get 24% of the RDA for magnesium. In the UK that would cost you only £7.50 per month. Meanwhile, drinking coconut water daily would set you back by over $40 per month, without providing many calories, nor the massive vitamin A and antioxidant content of sweet potatoes.
If you’re looking for some coconut goodness for acne then you should simply buy the whole coconut. Coconut flesh really is healthy; it’s not quite a superfood for acne, but the oil contains lauric acid, which has potent anti-inflammatory and anti-bacteria properties. It contains decent amounts of magnesium (8% per 100 grams) and is one of the greatest sources of manganese. Coconut’s selenium content of 15% is also great for acne.
Coconut has been shown repeatedly to lower LDL (bad) and total cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol. The flesh will contain residues of the water itself as well. Here in the UK, a medium sized coconut is great value for money, costing just 80p. There’s enough flesh inside to last for three or four days.
Finally there’s the best part – a whole coconut can give you half a small glass worth of coconut water for free! There’s no need to waste money on a bottle. It will be completely fresh unless the coconut itself is rotten.
What do I suggest you do with it? Drinking coconut water tastes great, but there won’t be enough within one individual coconut to provide much magnesium or potassium.
Hence, the best option is to apply it your face, to inundate your cells with cytokinins and potentially stay young forever.
Thanks for reading!