Substance Info: (and synonyms)

Background Info:

Family: Arecaceae (or Palmae).

See also: Coconut oil.
See also: Cocamide DEA.

There have in the past been 60 other species classified under the genus Cocos, but the Coconut palm is actually monotypic, meaning that within the genus Cocos only one species, nucifera, is now recognised, though within this species are numerous varieties.

The Coconut is native to tropical eastern regions, but today it is also grown in the tropical parts of the United States, in Central and South America, and in Africa. The largest-producing countries are Mozambique, Tanzania and Ghana. It is regarded as a staple food in Asia. Coconuts are both a subsistence food and one of the main sources of income for producing countries, and a source of many important products used in the industrialised world.

The Coconut palm is a long-lived, single-trunk plant up to 30m tall, with a spiky to drooping crown of long leaves at the top. The fruit, as big as a man’s head and 1-2kg in weight, is a drupe with a thin, smooth, grey-brownish epicarp, a fibrous mesocarp and a woody endocarp. Inside it contains one seed, which is partly liquid (Coconut milk), and partly solid (Coconut meat).

Man can use every part of the coconut. Coconut can be harvested when young, but the mature fruit is more familiar to the West. The white nut-meat can be eaten raw or shredded and dried, and is used in a great variety of recipes. The sap produces palm wine and vinegar. The apical buds are eaten as “palm-cabbage”. Desiccated coconut consists of dried and shredded endosperm. Coconut milk derives from the unripe nuts and is used fresh or fermented. Though dried and shredded coconut meat in sweets and pastries is the most visible use of Coconut in the West, the oil is very widely used in processed foods. Coconut is sensitive to oxidation due to high oil content and should be stored in well-sealed containers.

At one time Coconut oil received negative press because of its high level of saturated fat. However, recent research has shown that the fatty acids in unhydrogenated Coconut oil, the medium-chain triglycerides, do not raise serum cholesterol or contribute to heart disease like the long-chain triglycerides found in seed oils.

Coconuts are high in protein. Additionally, they have been classified as a "functional food," providing health benefits over and beyond the basic nutrients. The Lauric acid in Coconut oil is converted into monolaurin in the body. Monolaurin is the antiviral, antibacterial, and antiprotozoal monoglyceride used by humans and animals to destroy lipid-coated viruses and various pathogenic bacteria. Some studies have also shown some antimicrobial effects of free lauric acid. Coconut oil is also being used by thyroid sufferers to increase body metabolism and to lose weight.

Non-edible parts of the plant are used for thatch, fertiliser, basket-weaving and many other handicrafts, charcoal, lumber, furniture and implements, gas masks and air filters, and caulking materials. Coconut oil may be burned for illumination, and is often used for making natural soaps and other health products. Extracts of Coconut oil is also used for manufacturing soap, margarine, detergents, etc.


Adverse Reactions:


[ 1 / 9 ]

A 22-year-old woman with urticaria, dyspnea and bronchial asthma-like attacks after eating curried rice. The symptoms were found to be due to an immediate-type allergy caused by spice antigens contained in curry spices utilizing detailed questioning, skin test and measurement of specific immunoglobulin (Ig)E antibodies. This case was complicated with pollen-food allergy syndrome (PFAS) from melon and latex allergy (LA) to natural rubber latex (NRL) antigen and she had also had atopic dermatitis, allergic rhinitis and pollinosis. Serum specific IgE antibodies to birch profilin (Bet v 2), latex profilin (Hev b 8), and timothy profilin (Phl p 12) were detected. She also showed positive reactions to several Apiaceae families, fruits and latex antigens in skin prick test. Based on these findings, the authors considered her symptoms to be involved with spice allergy, PFAS and latex-fruit syndrome. Of the individual spices, SPT was positive to cumin, fennel, dill, fenugreek, cayenne, ginger, cardamom, garlic, garam masala, mustard seed, coconut milk, and negative to 13 others tested including curry powder.
(Yagami 2009 ref.24386 3)

Yagami A, Nakazawa Y, Suzuki K, Matsunaga K. Curry spice allergy associated with pollen-food allergy syndrome and latex fruit-syndrome. J Dermatol 2009 Jan;36(1):45-9.

[ 2 / 9 ]

Allergy to coconut is infrequent, with only 5 cases reported so far in the medical literature. This study identified coconut allergens in 2 coconut-allergic patients: an adult pollen-allergic patient monosensitized to coconut who presented with severe oropharyngeal symptoms and a child with a previous allergy to walnut, not allergic to pollen, who developed anaphylaxis on coconut ingestion. Both patients had positive SPT results and serum specific IgE (CAP) to coconut. The 30-year-old man experienced severe oropharyngeal itching, throat hoarseness, and gastric pain 10 minutes after the intake of fresh coconut. The reaction subsided spontaneously in 1 hour. Some weeks later the patient took a spoonful of a coconut dessert and experienced immediate oropharyngeal itching. The patient did not report any other adverse reactions to foods, including peanut and tree nuts. SPT to fresh coconut was positive and serum specific IgE level for coconut was 18 kU/L. The 4-year-old girl first seen at 2 years of age for an immediate reaction after taking a bite of a walnut (intense oropharyngeal itching and facial pruritic erythema), at 3.5 years she ate a piece of fresh coconut, and in less than 15 minutes she experienced intense oropharyngeal itching, followed by facial angioedema, cough, and wheezing dyspnea requiring emergency department treatment. SPT to fresh coconut were positive and serum specific IgE level for coconut was 18.3 kU/L. SPT for almond (3 mm), hazelnut (11 mm), and walnut (4 mm) were positive, with negative results for peanut and latex. The serum specific IgE values for almond, hazelnut, and walnut were 2.40, 19.70, and 49.0 kU/L, respectively.

An immunoblot showed an almost identical profile of IgE binding proteins in the coconut extract in both patients who reacted strongly to a band of approximately 29 kDa. The protein with the highest correlation with this peptide was found to be a 7S globulin from Elaeis guineensis, another oil palm species also belonging to the Arecaceae family. The 29-kDa band was digested by pepsin in less than 1 minute. Cross-reactivity among coconut, walnut, and hazelnut was demonstrated by CAP inhibition in patient 2. (Benito 2007 ref.20256 8)

Benito C, Gonzalez-Mancebo E, de D, Tolon RM, Fernandez-Rivas M. Identification of a 7S globulin as a novel coconut allergen. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2007 Jun;98(6):580-584

[ 3 / 9 ]

Monosensitization to coconut was described in a 64 year-old woman, who experienced generalized urticaria, facial and uvula edema, dysphagia and dyspnea a few minutes after eating a coconut biscuit. A similar second episode was followed by bronchoconstriction, hypotension and hypoxemia minutes after eating a Spanish sweet containing coconut, almond, sugar, milk, cocoa and yolk. She tolerated almond, milk, egg, sugar, cocoa, date, other nuts and legumes. Skin prick tests were strongly positive to coconut pulp and coconut milk, with a late skin reaction 4-6 hours later (edema and erythema). SPT were negative to palmate, date, palm pollen, peanut, almond, pistachio nut, walnut, hazelnut, sweet chestnut, soybean, cocoa, chickpea, lentil, mustard and latex. Serum specific IgE to Coconut was 20,8 KU/L and was not detected for to nuts, legumes and soybean. (Martin 2004 ref.21085 7)

Martin E, Tornero P, De Barrio M, Pérez CI, Beitia J M, Baeza ML. Monosensitization to coconut. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2004:113:S315

[ 4 / 9 ]

This study reports on a patient with anaphylaxis to coconut and oral symptoms to tree nuts, with positive skin test results to coconut and multiple tree nut extracts. IgE binding to 35- and 50-kDa protein bands in the coconut and hazelnut extracts was demonstrated and the presence of cross-reactive allergens between hazelnut (a tree nut) and coconut (a distantly related palm family member). (Nguyen 2004 ref.9090 7)

Nguyen SA, More DR, Whisman BA, Hagan LL. Cross-reactivity between coconut and hazelnut proteins in a patient with coconut anaphylaxis. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2004;92(2):281-4

[ 5 / 9 ]

A 3-year-old child with an IgE-mediated reaction to coconut. He was referred with abdominal pain, vomiting, oral allergy syndrome, and edema of the eyelids immediately after oral contact with a coconut sweet. One year later, after eating a small portion of fresh coconut, he suffered sudden abdominal pain, vomiting, oral allergy syndrome, and edema of the eyelids. No other food allergies or intolerances were reported. Skin prick test to almond resulted in a weak wheal. A prick test with fresh coconut was strongly positive. An open oral challenge test to almonds proved negative. Patch test to coconut was negative. Serum-specific IgE to coconut was positive (RAST class 3). An Ig-E binding protein of about 18 kDa, and two weaker bands of about 25 and 75 kDa were demonstrated. (Tella 2003 ref.8288 7)

Tella R, Gaig P, Lombardero M, Paniagua MJ, Garcia-Ortega P, Richart C. A case of coconut allergy. Allergy 2003;58(8):825-6

[ 6 / 9 ]

Anaphylaxis in a 28-year-old atopic man following ingestion of coconut ice-cream. The reaction consisted of oral pruritis, vomiting and intense angioedema of the lips and uvula. (Rosado 2002 ref.5657 2)

Rosado A, Fernandez-Rivas M, Gonzalez-Mancebo E, Leon F, Campos C, Tejedor MA. Anaphylaxis to coconut. Allergy 2002;57(2):182-3

[ 7 / 9 ]

Two patients with tree nut allergy manifested by life-threatening systemic reactions reported the subsequent onset of systemic reactions after the consumption of coconut. The two were aged 50 and 21 years, and previously diagnosed of severe sensitivity to nuts. The clinical reactivity in these 2 patients is likely due to cross-reacting IgE antibodies primarily directed against walnut, the original clinical allergy reported, and most likely to a walnut legumin-like protein. (Teuber 1999 ref.3280 5)

Teuber SS, Peterson WR. Systemic allergic reaction to coconut (Cocos nucifera) in 2 subjects with hypersensitivity to tree nut and demonstration of cross-reactivity to legumin-like seed storage proteins: new coconut and walnut food allergens. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1999;103(6):1185

[ 8 / 9 ]

Allergy to coconut is infrequent. Allergy reactions, from itching in the mouth, urticaria, to anaphylaxis. Skin sensitivity. Allergic reactions (viz. coconut) are possible if coconut protein is present. A baby of 8 months fed from birth with maternal milk, developed severe gastro-intestinal symptoms due to the presence of coconut oil in the formulation. Diagnosis was made using skin specific IgE tests and with oral challenges. (Couturier 1994 ref.1777 9)

Couturier P, Basset-Stheme D, Navette N, Sainte-Laudy J. A case of coconut oil allergy in an infant: responsibility of "maternalized" infant formulas. [French] Allerg Immunol (Paris) 1994;26(10):386-7

[ 9 / 9 ]

In this study, 102 patients with the initial diagnosis of idiopathic anaphylaxis were evaluated with a battery of 79 food-antigen skin prick tests selected to include foods reported or suspected of provoking anaphylaxis. Thirty-two patients (31%) had positive tests to one or more food antigens. In five of these patients, subsequently eating a food that elicited a positive test provoked an anaphylactic reaction. Two patients eliminated the foods completely, stopped having reactions, and refused challenge. In these seven patients, 10 different antigens provoked anaphylaxis: aniseed, cashew nut, celery, flaxseed, hops, mustard, mushroom, shrimp, sunflower, and walnut. We conclude that a battery of selected food-antigen skin prick tests provided a useful method for identifying an offending antigen in these patients and that some (7% in our series) cases of "idiopathic" anaphylaxis by history are not truly idiopathic.
The 10 antigens with positive clinical correlation
Antigens A B C
Aniseed 1 5 20
Cashew nut 1 2 50
Celery 2 4 50
Flaxseed 1 1 100
Hops 1 2 50
Mushroom 1 3 33
Mustard 2 3 66
Shrimp 1 3 33
Sunflower seed 1 3 33
Walnut 1 1 100
A = Total No. of positive skin tests with positive correlation
B = Total No. of positive skin tests
C = Percent of positive skin tests with positive correlation

Total number of positive skin prick tests.
2 - Almond
5 - Aniseed
1 - Artichoke
1 - Baker's yeast
1 - Beet
1 - Brazil nut
2 - Brewer's yeast
1 - Caraway seed
2 - Cashew nut
5 - Castor bean
4 - Celery
8 - Chamomile
2 - Chestnut
1 - Chicory
1 - Clam
2 - Coconut
1 - Cottonseed
2 - Crab
1 - Fennel
4 - Filbert (hazelnut)
I - Flaxseed
1 - Garbanzo bean
2 - Ginger
1 - Halibut
1 - Honey
2 - Hops
3 - Horseradish
1 - Lentil
1 - Lima beans
2 - Lobster
2 - Mango
1 - Milk
5 - Millet
3 - Mushroom
3 - Mustard
1 - Nutmeg
2 - Pea
1 - Pistachio
3 - Poppy seed
2 - Sesame seed
3 - Shrimp
3 - Sunflower
1 - Thyme
1 - Tumeric
1 - Walnut
None for Allspice, Apple, Banana, Bay leaf, Black pepper, Buckwheat, Cantaloupe, Chicken, Chili pepper, Chocolate, Cinnamon, Clove, Cod, Corn, Cumin seed, Dill seed, Egg, Garlic, Juniper berry, Orange, Oyster, Peach, Peanut, Potato, Psyllium seed, Raspberry, Sage, Salmon, Soybean, Strawberry, Sweet potato, Tangerine, Tapioca, Vanilla.
7 patients with positive clinical correlation to a SPT
1 : Aniseed
2 : Shrimp
3 : Mustard, flaxseed
4 : Celery, hops
5 : Celery, mustard, sunflower
6 : Walnut, cashew nut
7 : Mushroom
(Stricker 1986 ref.9 3606)

Stricker WE, Anorve Lopez E, Reed CE. Food skin testing in patients with "idiopathic anaphylaxis". J Allergy Clin Immunol 1986;77:516-519

Non-Immune reactions

[ 1 ]

Some Nigerian plants of dermatologic importance. Sixty-five per cent of patients had applied some form of herbal remedy before attending the clinic. Lesions for which herbs were successfully applied included infantile eczema and seborrhoiec dermatitis, atopic eczema, impetigo, impetiginized eczema, tinea capitis, scabies, erythema multiforme, leg ulcers, localized vitiligo, and sexually transmitted diseases. Partial relief was achieved in dermatophytoses, ichthyosis, leprosy, and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Some forms of alopecia, onychomycosis, and vitiligo, as well as allergic dermatoses, were not improved by herbal medicines. The plants used included Adansonia digitata, Aframomum melegueta, Aloe species, Azadirachta indica, Cassia alata, Alstonia boonei, Ficus asperifolia, Cocos nucifera, Jatropha gossypyfolia, Ocimum gratissimum, Ricinus communis. (Ajose 2007 ref.21084 0)

Ajose FO. Some Nigerian plants of dermatologic importance. Int J Dermatol 2007 Oct;46 Suppl 1:48-55.

[ 2 ]

A coconut phytobezoar was detected in the distal ileum of a 4-year-old boy, admitted for suspected appendicitis. (Venuta 2001 ref.7658 1)

Venuta A, Bertolani P, Guaraldi N, Cano C, Perrone A, Scarone PC. Unusual cause of ileal occlusion: a coconut bezoar. [Italian] Pediatr Med Chir 2001;23(3-4):203-4

Occupational reactions

[ 1 ]

Occupational allergic conjunctivitis due to coconut fibre dust. A 46-year-old who had worked for 10 years in a coconut fibre mattress factory and had been exposed to coconut dust had suffered for the previous 5 years with conjunctivitis occurring 20-30 minutes after beginning of tufting mattress with coconut fibre. (Wittczak 2005 ref.11841 5)

Wittczak T, Pas-Wyroslak A, Palczynski C. Occupational allergic conjunctivitis due to coconut fibre dust. Allergy 2005 Jul;60(7):970-971.

Information supplied from an abridged section of:
Allergy Advisor - Zing Solutions

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Allergy Advisor  - Food Additive and Preservative Allergy and Intolerance Database