Coconut oil, the new antifungal?


Coconut oil has been touted in a recent years as a ‘super food’ with claims of numerous benefits ranging from ability to promote increased weight loss , improved (healthier) lipid profile during dieting to its  antimicrobial, antiviral and antifungal properties. Although the health benefits of coconut oil are regularly suggested to be plentiful in the media (much like several other ‘miracle foods’), there seems to be some scientific support for the claims for coconut oils.  

In a recent study led by researchers at Tufts University, the powerful antifungal effects of coconut oil were demonstrated. The study tested the effects of a coconut oil rich diet on mice infected with the fungal pathogen Candida albicans. C. albicans is a relatively common infection of the gastro-intestinal tract. However, in patients who are immune-compromised the pathogen can multiply and infiltrate into the bloodstream and cause a systemic infection, often hospitalising affected individuals. Luckily, antifungal drugs can be used to combat this infection of the gut to prevent further infection spread, but we need to minimise use of the few antifungal drugs we have as we need to control the rise of resistant strains and minimise drug costs!

Notably, the study demonstrated that a coconut oil rich diet was able to reduce the C.albicans present in the gut by more than 90% compared to a beef tallow rich diet. The powerful antifungal properties shown by the study suggests that coconut oil could be utilised by patients as a possible aid in preventing / treating fungal infections caused by C. albicans and potentially other fungal pathogens that they are vulnerable to such as Aspergillus. The toxicity of coconut oil of C. albicans was also supported by a previous study in 2007, suggesting that coconut oil could be used as a potential ’treatment of fungal infections in view of emerging drug-resistant Candida species.’

Although in the early stages of research it has been postulated in scientific studies that the components in coconut oil can be selectively toxic Aspergillus niger. In 1992, Jain et al found that coconut oil reduced spore germination of A. niger among other pathogens. Furthermore, in 2002, a Czech study at the Institute of Chemical Technology found  inhibition of aspergillus niger by Monoacylglycerols Prepared from Coconut Oil.

However exciting the findings of these studies are, more clinical evidence in human studies is needed in order to better understand the efficacy of coconut oil on treating human fungal infections.