If you're a regular reader of our blog, you'll know that virgin coconut oil (VCO) has long been known for its antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties. Thanks to these powerful properties, VCO can help eliminate harmful viruses, bacteria, and fungi both inside and outside of the body.
But if VCO has powerful antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, doesn't it harm beneficial bacteria as well? Thankfully, this isn't the case. In fact, research has shown that medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) in coconut oil kill only bad, pathogenic bacteria and help fight numerous bacterial infections. In this post, we'll take a look at the scientific evidence and explain how MCFAs support beneficial bacteria in the gut.
How VCO Affects Different Types of Bacteria
First, it's important to note that beneficial (good) bacteria and harmful (bad) bacteria have different phytological structures. Put simply, "good" and "bad" bacteria are not the same and VCO affects them in different ways.
To understand this, it can be helpful to think about antibiotics and their effect on various strains of bacteria – some antibiotics kill certain strains of bacteria and have minimal effect on others. That's why your doctor or veterinarian will test for bacterial strain before prescribing an antibiotic. In the same way, there are weed killers that kill only specific types of plants. However, they won't harm grasses even though grasses and weeds may have very similar biological structures.
In the same way, certain bacteria are more sensitive or vulnerable to MCFAs. MCFAs can disrupt the bacterial cell wall and interfere with cell communication and reproduction in the vulnerable bacteria, but they have no effect on beneficial bacteria.
Beneficial bacteria reside alongside harmful bacteria in the gut. These beneficial bacteria are self-propagating and do their share in keeping bad bacteria at bay. In a healthy gut, prebiotics provide available food for specific groups of beneficial bacteria. This gives them a competitive advantage over bad bacteria in the large intestines.
Beneficial bacteria protect themselves by producing bacteriocins that kill pathogens and bad bacteria. They also improve competition for nutrients like prebiotics and small-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). This means that the more beneficial bacteria we have in our gut, the better.
How VCO Supports a Healthy Gut Microbiome
Virgin coconut oil actually enables and supports a beneficial shift in gut microbes in favor of beneficial gut bacteria. The antimicrobial MCFAs (specifically Lauric Acid) decrease enterotoxins and carcinogens that have a negative effect in the gut.
Approximately 50% of the fatty acids in virgin coconut oil are lauric acid. Lauric acid is a medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA). It has the additional beneficial function of being converted into a molecule called monolaurin in the body which destroys the lipid membrane of viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Dr. Mary Enig, a Ph.D. nutritionist/biochemist and one of the world's leading authorities on fats and oils, explains:
"Lauric Acid in coconut oil is formed into monoglyceride monolaurin in the human or animal body. Monolaurin is the antiviral, antibacterial, and antiprotozoal monoglyceride used by the human or animal to destroy lipid coated viruses such as HIV, herpes, cytomegalovirus, influenza, various pathogenic bacteria including listeria monocytogenes and helicobacter pylori, and protozoa such as giardia lamblia. Some studies have also shown some antimicrobial effects of Lauric Acid."
Monolaurin does not have a negative effect on desirable (good) gut bacteria, but rather on only potentially pathogenic microorganisms. To illustrate this point, a study by Isaacs et al (1991) reported no inactivation of the common Escherichia coli, Lactobacillus strains, Bifidobacterium, Bacillus Coagulans by Monolaurin, but major inactivation of pathogenic microorganisms, such as Hemophilus influenzae, Staphylococcus epidermidis and Group B gram positive streptococcus. In other words, monolaurin did not harm good bacteria, but eliminated bad bacteria and pathogens instead.
Bacteria Killed by Medium Chain Fatty Acids:
|Streptococcus||Throat infections, pneumonia, sinusitis, earache, dental cavities|
|Staphylococcus||Staph infections, food poisoning, urinary tract infections, toxic shock syndrome|
|Neisseria||Meningitis, gonorrhea, pelvic inflammatory disease|
|Chlamydia||Genital infections, lymphogranuloma venereum, conjunctivitis, parrot fever pneumonia, periodontist|
|Helicobacter pylori||Stomach ulcers
|Gram-positive organisms||Anthrax, gastroenteritis, botulism, tetanus|
|Gram-negative organisms||Salmonellosis, cholera, brucellosis, campylobacter infections, typhoid fever|
|Hemophilus influenza||Infections of the spinal cord & lining of the brain|
|Groups A,B,F & G streptococci||Throat and skin infections, scarlet fever, impetigo, pneumonia, meningitis|
|Listeria monocyatogenes||Listeriosis, food poisoning|
Ref.: The Coconut Oil Miracle, Dr. Bruce Fife, C.N. N.D, ©2001, The Penguin Group (USA) Inc. ISBN 1-58333-204-9
In another study, research was conducted to test virgin coconut oil’s impact on the intestinal caecum microbiome. The research showed the positive effect virgin coconut oil had on the microbiota populations, and an increase in the abundance of beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus, Allobaculum and Bifidobacterium species was proven1.
Mother's milk is rich in MCFAs (including Lauric Acid) for the very reason of supporting and building immune and gut health in babies and young animals. Nature designed MCFAs found in mother's milk and virgin coconut oil to protect and build the immune system rather than harm beneficial gut bacteria.
This is a major reason why MCFAs are so beneficial in mother's milk. They kill the bad bacteria in the gut and prevent sickness and death in the developing infant. They also promote the growth of beneficial bacteria that will give infants a healthy digestive and immune system. The MCFAs in virgin coconut oil work in much the same way. In fact, MCFAs are considered nature’s “antibiotic". They help fight bacterial infections and eliminate overgrowth of bad bacteria, while posing no harm to beneficial gut bacteria.
Looking for more information about the antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties of virgin coconut oil? Make sure to check out our previous post, The Proven Antiviral Properties of Coconut Oil.
1 Effect of virgin coconut oil on caecal microbiota composition in alloxan-induced diabetic rats
D Mitic-Culafic et al 2019 IOP Conf. Ser.: Earth Environ. Sci. 333 012080