Coconut is a popular health-promoting and versatile medicinal food that provides a variety of benefits, including boosting heart health, reducing stress, and preventing brain diseases like Alzheimer’s. Now, recent research suggests that coconut, specifically coconut oil, has antifungal properties as well.
A study published in the American Society of Microbiology’s journal mSphere found that coconut oil can control the overgrowth of Candida albicans, a type of pathogenic yeast, in mice. This suggests that coconut oil can be used as an alternative to antifungal drugs to reduce the risk of contracting infections caused by this pathogen.
A safe, dietary alternative
C. albicans is one of the most common human fungal pathogens. In most cases, this pathogen is a harmless organism that colonizes the skin and gastrointestinal tract. The population of C. albicans is generally regulated by the immune system and antifungal drug use. However, the study points out that a compromise in the immune system can cause this fungus to spread from the gastrointestinal tract to other parts of the body, causing infections with a mortality rate of 49 percent. This fungal spread can also cause a systemic infection called invasive candidiasis, which is one of the most common blood infections in the United States.
Antifungal drugs can be used to prevent C. albicans from spreading to the bloodstream. But too much use of these drugs can lead to developing drug-resistant strains of this fungal pathogen, making natural alternatives safer and more appealing to use.
Researchers from Tufts University investigated the effects of dietary intervention on the gastrointestinal colonization of C. albicans in mice. They compared the effects of three different dietary fats on the number of fungal pathogens: beef tallow, coconut oil, and soybean oil. They also established a control group with mice fed with a standard diet.
Their results show that a diet rich in coconut oil can reduce the number of C. albicans in the gut compared to beef tallow- or soybean-rich diets. They observed that colonization was significantly lower in the feces of mice fed with coconut oil compared to the other two dietary fats. There was also no noteworthy differences in colonization between beef tallow and soybean diets.
The researchers also tested the results of a diet rich in both beef tallow and coconut oil. They observed that coconut oil alone, or a combination of both fats, can reduce the number of pathogens in the mice’s guts by a significant margin.
“Coconut oil even reduced fungal colonization when mice were switched from beef tallow to coconut oil, or when mice were fed both beef tallow and coconut oil at the same time. These findings suggest that adding coconut oil to a patient’s existing diet might control the growth of C. albicans in the gut, and possibly decrease the risk of fungal infections caused by C. albicans,” said co-author Carol Kumamoto, a microbiologist at the Tufts University School of Medicine.
The researchers also suggested that their study paves the way in understanding how to reduce the risk of life-threatening yeast infections through the use of a specific type of fat.
“We want to give clinicians a treatment option that might limit the need for antifungal drugs. If we can use coconut oil as a safe, dietary alternative, we could decrease the amount of antifungal drugs used, reserving antifungal drugs for critical situations,” said first author Kearney Gunsalus.
The researchers emphasized the need to take the next step in research to determine if their findings could be replicated in humans. Future research is necessary to identify the minimum effective dosage of coconut oil.