A. If Virgin Coconut Oil Is Antibacterial, Does It Kill Beneficial Bacteria In The Gut?
If you read our blog regularly, you will know the benefits of coconut oil for dogs and cats. Virgin coconut oil is known for its antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and antimicrobial properties. Thanks to these powerful properties, virgin coconut oil for dogs and cats can help eliminate harmful viruses, bacteria and fungi inside and outside the body.
But if virgin coconut oil has powerful antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, doesn’t it also harm beneficial bacteria? Fortunately, this is not the case. In fact, research has shown that medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) in coconut oil only kill harmful and pathogenic bacteria and help fight numerous bacterial infections. In this post, we take a look at the scientific evidence and explain how MCFAs support beneficial bacteria in the gut.
1. How Virgin Coconut Oil Affects Different Types of Bacteria
First, it is important to note that useful (good) bacteria and harmful (bad) bacteria have different phytological structures. Simply put, “good” and “bad” bacteria are not the same thing, and virgin coconut oil affects them in different ways. To understand this, it might be helpful to think about antibiotics and how they affect different strains of bacteria – some antibiotics kill certain strains of bacteria and have minimal effects on others. Because of this, your doctor or veterinarian will test for bacterial strains before prescribing an antibiotic. There are also herbicides that kill only certain types of plants. However, they will not harm grasses, although grasses and weeds can have very similar biological structures.
Certain bacteria are also more sensitive or susceptible to MCFAs. MCFAs can destroy the bacterial cell wall and disrupt cell communication and reproduction of susceptible bacteria, but they have no effect on beneficial bacteria. Beneficial bacteria are found in the intestines alongside harmful bacteria. These beneficial bacteria multiply by themselves and do their part to keep harmful bacteria at bay. In a healthy gut, prebiotics provide nutrition available to certain groups of beneficial bacteria. This gives them a competitive edge over harmful colon bacteria. The beneficial bacteria protect themselves by producing bacteriocins that kill harmful pathogens and bacteria. They also improve competition for nutrients such as prebiotics and small chain fatty acids (SCFAs). This means that the more beneficial bacteria we have in our intestines, the better.
2. How Virgin Coconut Oil Supports a Healthy Gut Microbiome
In fact, virgin coconut oil enables and supports a beneficial shift in intestinal microbes in favor of beneficial intestinal bacteria. Antimicrobial MCFAs (especially lauric acid) reduce enterotoxins and carcinogens that have negative effects on the intestine. About 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 in the body into a molecule called monolaurin, which destroys the lipid membrane of viruses, bacteria and fungi. Dr. Mary Enig, Ph.D. Nutritionist / Biochemist and one of the world’s leading experts on fats and oils, explains:
“The lauric acid in coconut oil is formed into monolaurin monoglyceride in the human or animal body. Monolaurin is the antiviral, antibacterial and antiprotozoal monoglyceride used by humans or animals 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 bactérias (good) desirable intestinal bacteria, but only on potentially pathogenic microorganisms. To illustrate this point, a study by Isaacs et al. (1991) do not report inactivation of common Escherichia coli, Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Bacillus Coagulans strains by monolaurin, but a strong inactivation of pathogenic microorganisms such as Hemophilus influenzae, Staphylococcus epidermidis and gram-positive group B streptococci. monolaurin does not harm the good bacteria, but instead it kills the bad bacteria and pathogens.
3. Bacteria killed by medium chain fatty acids
a. Bacterial Diseases / Causes of Diseases
- Streptococcal sore throat, pneumonia, sinusitis, earache, tooth decay
- Staph infections, food poisoning, urinary tract infections, toxic shock syndrome
- Neisseria meningitis, gonorrhea, pelvic inflammatory disease
- Genital Chlamydia infections, lymphogranuloma venereum, conjunctivitis, parrot fever pneumonia, periodontist
- Helicobacter pylori stomach ulcers
- Gram-positive organisms anthrax, gastroenteritis, botulism, tetanus
- Gram-negative pathogens, salmonellosis, cholera, brucellosis, Campylobacter infections, typhoid fever
- Haemophilus influenza infections of the spinal cord and meninges
- Groups A, B, F and G streptococci, throat and skin infections, scarlet fever, impetigo, pneumonia, meningitis
- Listeria monocytogenes Listeriosis, food poisoning
In another study, research was carried out to test the effects of virgin coconut oil on the intestinal microbiome of the cecum. Research has shown the beneficial effects of virgin coconut oil on microbiota populations and has shown an increase in the abundance of beneficial bacteria, such as Lactobacillus, Allobaculum and Bifidobacterium1 species. Breast milk is rich in MCFAs (including lauric acid) for the purpose of supporting and building the immune system and intestinal health of infants and young animals. Nature created the MCFAs found in breast milk and virgin coconut oil to protect and rebuild the immune system rather than harming beneficial intestinal bacteria.
This is one of the main reasons why MCFAs are so beneficial in breast milk. They kill harmful bacteria in the gut and prevent illness and death in the developing baby. They also stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria that provide babies with healthy digestive and immune systems. The MCFAs in virgin coconut oil work the same way. In fact, MCFAs are considered “antibiotics” of nature. They help fight bacterial infections and eliminate the overgrowth of harmful bacteria, while not harming beneficial intestinal bacteria.
B. Why Coconut Oil Is Really Not An Antibacterial
Coconut oil is natural and can be wonderful for the skin, but to say it is “antibacterial” is not true. I see everyone from sunbathers in their 20s to young moms in their 30s, spreading it all like a skin-healing antibacterial that can’t go wrong, but that’s not the truth.
1. Where did the rumor come from
There are three rumors that coconut oil is an antibacterial agent:
First, there are studies that show that lauric acid can have an antibacterial effect, especially against P. acnes, the type of bacteria responsible for acne. However, these studies use purified lauric acid, not 50% lauric acid, other fatty acids, and organic waste substances that coconut oil is made from.
Furthermore, the studies I found with lauric acid as an antibacterial agent do not expose the entire skin microflora to lauric acid, only P. acnes, which means that these studies DO NOT conclude that lauric acid is antibacterial against ALL common bacterial species in the skin. In fact, lauric acid is known to be antibacterial, but it is NOT listed as an antibacterial chemical in the FDA monograph simply because it does not work against all organisms tested for that designation.
Second, coconut oil has low water activity, which some people interpret to mean that bacteria cannot grow because there is not much water. But actually this is not true. “Low water activity” is not the same as “low water content”. The amount of water in coconuts depends on the drying and heating process. Coconuts made from very dry copra have less moisture than those made from less dry copra or fresh coconuts (virgin coconut oil). Likewise, oil that has been exposed to heat will have less moisture than oil that has not been exposed to heat.
The third and final reason for this rumor is that coconut oil is widely available on the internet and contains antimicrobial and antifungal agents such as monocaprin and monolaurin when influenced by certain enzymes. However, this has not been confirmed by any peer-reviewed research using solid methods – and especially if you are using coconut oil on your skin!
2. Why Coconut Oil Develops Bacteria
Coconut oil makes bacteria grow because it’s full of things that bacteria like to feed on. It includes the lipids lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, all of which have some antibacterial effect, but DO NOT cover the full range of microorganisms that you might regularly encounter. Also, after regular use, any bacteria and moisture on your hands will end up in the bottle, making it a prime place for bacteria to grow.
3. This is how you can tell if your coconut oil has changed.
Dark spots on the top or bottom of the container are clear signs that bacteria or fungi have grown in coconut oil. Sometimes it smells different. In that case, throw it away immediately.
Since coconut oil is NOT an effective antibacterial agent against a wide range of susceptible microorganisms and generally does not contain preservatives, repeatedly pushing it into the bottle with wet or bacteria-laden hands can cause bacteria or fungi to grow in the bottle.
4. Why use coconut oil?
Coconut oil is an emollient mild enough to be used in baby food on the thinner and more sensitive skin of babies (Indian pediatrics). In fact, one study found it in 44.4% of products for newborns. One study found that virgin coconut oil can be used to treat acne (dermatitis) because of its properties against P. acnes. It can also help heal burns, although researchers haven’t figured out exactly why, because coconut has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties.
And while moisture, antioxidants and healing powers can be great uses for coconut oil, forget to use coconut oil as sun protection. True, coconut has some UV protection – it blocks about 20% of the UV rays, but who wants to let 80% of the UV rays through when sunscreen with SPF 50 lets only 2% of the rays through?
Coconut oil is proven to be a moisturizer, antioxidant and skin soother, but it has NEVER been shown to have antibacterial activity against the ENTIRE range of microorganisms your skin or bottle of coconut oil can encounter. As a result, without any preservatives, your coconut oil cup MAY become infected with bacteria or fungi over time, which you may notice as brown spots on the top of your cup (from contact with moisture/bacteria laden fingers) or at the bottom of your glass (from moisture added to seepage on the sides of your product and through small cracks in the product). Personally, I like it to moisturize and heal dry patches of skin – but I buy mine in small quantities, wash and dry my hands before each use, use a cotton swab and keep mine in a cool, dark place.