Lauric acid is one of the main components of coconut oil, making up around half of the fatty acids in its composition. It is classified as a lipid, or a fatty acid with a chain of medium length. Coconut is the main raw material for the production of lauric acid, which is used in turn to produce monolaurin, a very powerful antiseptic agent that can destroy a wide range of bacteria, viruses, yeasts and fungi. Lauric acid never occurs on its own in nature and can't be consumed alone because it irritates the stomach. However, it can be supplied easily by eating raw coconuts or using coconut oil for cooking.
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The human body transforms lauric acid into monolaurin. This monoglyceride is a very useful compound with a strong antimicrobial, antiviral, antifungal and antiprotozoal action. It is very effective against all types of pathogens because it attacks and weakens their lipid membranes, which makes them easy to destroy.
Monolaurin is especially valuable in the treatment of conditions like ringworms, athlete's foot or Candida albicans, which are very resistant otherwise. It is a potent weapon against the most difficult to treat bacterial infections, as well as viruses protected by a lipid coating, such as influenza, hepatitis C, HIV, herpes or measles. The strong antiviral ability of this compound has made it the focus of a study conducted in the Philippines that investigated it as a possible cure for HIV/AIDS. Most of the modern drugs used against viruses and bacteria are toxic and have negative side effects, while lauric acid is a harmless natural compound.
When supplied with enough lauric acid, the body constantly transforms it into monolaurin, which is one of its strongest weapons against diseases. This is one of the reasons why people who consume coconut oil in their diet are healthier than the others. This is also why human breast milk is the only other natural source of lauric acid, as a natural defensive mechanism for sugars. Babies who are breast-fed are much more resistant against infection.
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Around half of the fatty acids in coconut milk are triglycerides composed of lauric acid. The same percentage is also found in some other vegetal oils like palm kernel oil, laurel oil, as well as coconut milk. In human breast milk, 6.2% of total fat is lauric acid, with lower concentrations in goat's milk (3.1%) and cow's milk (2.9%). It is rare in other natural foods.
Lauric acid shares many of the advantages of other fatty acids, since it is cheap, easy to produce, non-toxic and it has a long shelf life. It is an ingredient in the cosmetic industry, especially in soaps. Sodium laureate is a type of soap that results from the reaction of lauric acid and sodium hydroxide. Sodium laureate is industrially produced through the saponification of coconut oil and other oils, resulting in a mix of soaps that includes sodium laureate.
The chemical name of lauric acid is dodecanoic acid. This major component of coconut oil is a common saturated fatty acid also found in milk. It is mainly a cosmetic ingredient in soaps and shampoos and looks like a powder with a white color. It is very important for the health of babies, who source it through breast-feeding, as well as kids and adults who can get it by including the oils and fruits with a high content in their diet. Initial studies have found it to be very effective against infections but this must be validated by further studies.
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Chemically, this compound has the structure C12H2402. Because of the 12 atoms of carbon in its composition, so it is considered a fatty acid with a medium chain. The short chain ones only have two to six atoms of carbon, while the long chain acids are more than 12 carbon atoms long. It is classified as a saturated fatty acid, since the bounds between carbon atoms are not double. The molar mass has been measured at 200.31776.
Some people describe the smell as being very close to the one of bay oil or soap, which makes sense since these are chemically similar. In normal conditions, it is a crystalline powder with a white color. It melts at 43.2°C and boils at 298.9°C.
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Lauric acid is a very common industrial raw material in the production of soaps and shampoos. You can easily identify it on the label, where it often appears as sodium laurel sulfate because it is combined with sodium hydroxide. It can easily be mixed with fats and polar solvents, due to its chemical composition. Polar solvents are substances such as water, which have a low electrical charge and can dissolve various other compounds. Lauric acid is useful in shampoos because it binds to hair oils, then both can be washed away with ease. Besides cosmetics, it is also used in the manufacturing of insecticides and lauryl alcohol.
For cooking purposes, coconut oil and palm oil are the two options with a very high concentration of lauric acid. Palm oil is cheap and widely available, so it is heavily used in processed foods. Coconut oil is more expensive and has a sweet complex flavour, being an ingredient of choice in seafood recipes. The usage of these oils also depends on regional availability factors. They are very popular in the tropical areas where they are produced, while in Europe or North America other types of vegetable oils are more common.
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Some recent studies concluded that lauric acid and other saturated fats greatly increase the risk of heart diseases by boosting the level of LDL (bad) cholesterol. As a result, these two oils have been considered to be unhealthy and nutritionists advised people to avoid them. However, even newer studies have discovered that saturated fatty acids with medium chains are actually beneficial. Modern medicine has now established that trans fats are the most dangerous. These chemicals are produced through the hydrogenation of vegetable oils and increase both good and bad varieties of cholesterol at the same time. Experts suggest completely avoiding hydrogenated oils and limiting the consumption of lauric acid and saturated fats to no more than 10% of the total amount of calories. Coconut oil and palm oil are now becoming more popular again, since the role of various fats and their effects on human health are much better understood.
Lauric acid and other fatty acids might be a very effective counter for acne due to their antiseptic effects. This has been confirmed by experiments in vitro but serious clinical trials are required before a potential use in human medicine.