Coconut oil has been shown to be effective against C. albicans infection in mice.
The study - led by Prof. Carol Kumamoto, PhD, from Tufts University in Massachusetts - is published in the American Society for Microbiology's journal mSphere.
She and her colleagues explain that in people with compromised immune systems - such as cancer patients, transplant patients, premature infants and sometimes the elderly - C. albicans can leave the gut and enter the bloodstream, where it can cause deadly infection, affecting the kidneys, liver, spleen, lungs, brain and heart valves.
They note that nearly half of patients with systemic C. albicans infection will die from it.
"People who get this disease are very sick and generally in the hospital," says Prof. Kumamoto. "Candida is one of the most common causes of bloodstream infections in hospitalized patients."
Although the current first line of defense is to use antifungal drugs, the researchers explain that they can contribute to the emergence of drug-resistant strains, so clinicians are cautious about using them.
Previous in vitro studies have shown that coconut oil has antifungal properties; because changes in the amount and type of fat can alter gastrointestinal microbiota, the team designed an experiment involving different high-fat diets and their effect on the guts of mice.
'10-fold drop in colonization in mice fed coconut oil'
The high-fat diets fed to the mice contained either coconut oil, beef tallow or soybean oil. Meanwhile, another group of mice was fed a standard diet.
Fast facts about candidiasis
- There are over 20 species of infection-causing Candida yeasts; C. albicans is the most common
- In the US annually, around 46,000 cases of health care-related invasive candidiasis occur
- Between 5-7% of babies under 1 month of age will develop oral candidiasis.
All groups of mice were fed these diets for 14 days before the researchers inoculated them with C. albicans, and they continued on their respective diets for 21 more days.
Results showed that 21 days after the inoculation, the mice that were fed the coconut oil diet had C. albicans colonization in their stomachs that was significantly lower than the mice that were fed the beef tallow diet, the soybean oil diet or the standard diet.
Prof. Kumamoto notes that there "was about a 10-fold drop in colonization" in the mice that ate coconut oil, compared with those that ate either beef fat or soy bean oil.
In a further experiment, she and her team switched the mice on the beef fat diet to the coconut oil diet and found that just 4 days after the diet change, "the colonization changed so it looked almost exactly like what you saw in a mouse who had been on coconut oil the entire time."
Commenting further on their findings, Prof. Kumamoto says:
"We found that diet can be an effective way to reduce the amount of Candida in the mouse. The extension of this finding to the human population is something that needs to be addressed in the future."
She explains that they would like to find out the mechanism behind how coconut oil produces these effects and whether these results can be replicated in humans.
If all goes according to plan, the research team will launch a clinical trial involving hospitalized infants who are at high risk for systemic candidiasis and how coconut oil may help.
Medical News Today recently investigated the health benefits of coconut oil.