Coconut oil, a natural antibiotic when digested, destroys the bacteria that cause tooth decay, researchers at the Athlone Institute of Technology, Ireland, reported at the Society for General Microbiology’s autumn conference at the University of Warwick, England, today. They added that the antibiotic component in digested coconut oil could be added to dental care products.
Dr Damien Brady and team set out to determine whether coconut oil might have antibacterial qualities at combating some strains of Streptococcus bacteria which commonly inhabit the human mouth and cause tooth decay. They tested the coconut oil in its natural and semi-digested state. They added enzymes so that the oil could be tested in a digested state.
Although natural, undigested coconut oil appeared to have no impact, the scientists found that the digested oil stopped most Streptococcus bacteria from multiplying. Of particular interest was Streptococcus mutans, a type of bacterium which produces teeth-decaying acids.
Dr. Brady explained that previous studies had demonstrated that certain foodstuffs, when semi-digested, had the capacity to destroy micro-organisms. The binding of S. mutans to tooth enamel was significantly reduced when teeth were exposed to enzyme-modified milk, one study had shown. That study encouraged this team to test out other foods.
The researchers plan to see how coconut oil interacts with Streptococcus bacteria at molecular level. They also want to find out whether digested coconut oil might combat other pathogens, including some types of bacteria and yeasts.
The team inform that preliminary studies have found that semi-digested coconut oil destroys Candida albicans, a yeast that causes thrush.
The scientists believe that enzyme-modified coconut oil, meaning in its semi-digested state, may have commercially viable antimicrobial qualities for the oral healthcare industry.
Dr Brady said:
“Dental caries is a commonly overlooked health problem affecting 60-90% of children and the majority of adults in industrialized countries. Incorporating enzyme-modified coconut oil into dental hygiene products would be an attractive alternative to chemical additives, particularly as it works at relatively low concentrations.
Also, with increasing antibiotic resistance, it is important that we turn our attention to new ways to combat microbial infection.
Our data suggests that products of human digestion show antimicrobial activity. This could have implications for how bacteria colonize the cells lining the digestive tract and for overall gut health.
Our research has shown that digested milk protein not only reduced the adherence of harmful bacteria to human intestinal cells but also prevented some of them from gaining entrance into the cell. We are currently researching coconut oil and other enzyme-modified foodstuffs to identify how they interfere with the way bacteria cause illness and disease.”
Streptococcus mutans (S. mutans) is an anaerobic, Gram-positive, coccus shaped bacterium. Coccus shaped means the bacterium has a spherical or spheroidal shape. S. mutans commonly inhabits the human oral cavity and is the leading cause of tooth decay globally.
S. mutans, according to experts, is the most cariogenic of all the oral streptococci. Cariogenic means producing or promoting the development of tooth decay. The bacterium sticks to the surface of the tooth and exists on certain types of carbohydrates. As it metabolizes sugars and other sources of energy, it produces an acid that damages teeth.
Virtually all humans carry S. mutans in their oral cavity.
Written by Christian Nordqvist