Also known as glycerol monolaurate or glyceryl laurate, monolaurin is used in cosmetics and as a food additive. People can also take it as a dietary supplement.
Monolaurin has shown antibacterial and antiviral effects when examined in test tubes and culture dishes, which is referred to as in vitro testing. Researchers are currently investigating its usefulness in clinical settings.
This article looks at the potential benefits and side effects of monolaurin.
The research on monolaurin is limited. So far, its effects have only been seen when tested in laboratories or on animals.
Despite this, evidence suggests that the compound may have the following qualities:
Monolaurin is available as a dietary supplement.
Image credit: Flwany, 2016
Monolaurin shows antibacterial effects against a range of bacteria including antibiotic-resistant bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus (Staph).
According to a 2013 study, monolaurin is effective both in vitro and in living beings against certain strains of Staph infection.
Although this study did not use human participants, it did show monolaurin's effectiveness at killing bacterial infection in mice.
Other research indicates that monolaurin can inhibit the activity of other types of bacteria such as Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Bacillus subtilis.
In 2007, the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology published a study that compared monolaurin and six common antibiotics in the treatment of skin infections. The antibiotics included penicillin, oxacillin, and vancomycin.
The study concluded that monolaurin demonstrated "statistically significant in vitro broad-spectrum sensitivity" against the bacteria responsible for the skin infections. Most of the bacteria also did not display any resistance to the monolaurin.
There are many antibiotic-resistant bacteria that no longer respond to medications. Monolaurin might be helpful, has few side effects, and is cost-effective to use.
Monolaurin is reported to inhibit several lipid-coated viruses that affect humans and animals, including:
- Herpes simplex-1
- Herpes simplex-2
- visna virus
- Epstein-Barr virus
Recent research on female primates indicates that daily application of monolaurin vaginal gel may reduce the risk of contracting SIV, the primate form of HIV.
Both monolaurin and coconut oil, which contains lauric acid, are possibly best known for their antifungal effects.
The common fungus, Candida albicans (C. albicans) can affect the skin, genitals, throat, and mouth of humans.
Monolaurin has been shown in research to treat infection with C. albicans, while also controlling the pro-inflammatory response of the body to the fungus.
Based on the qualities mentioned above, monolaurin has several suggested uses.
While the research into the effects of monolaurin in people is limited, it may be useful for the following:
- preventing and treating bacterial, fungal, or viral infections
- treating some skin conditions
- treating some antibiotic-resistant infections, such as Staphylococcus aureus)
- boosting the immune system
Monolaurin also has uses in food production and manufacturing. At present, people use monolaurin in the production of:
Forms and dosage
The body converts lauric acid into monolaurin. Lauric acid may be found in coconut milk, coconut cream, and fresh coconuts.
Monolaurin is available as a dietary supplement.
Additionally, the body can convert lauric acid into monolaurin. The richest food source of lauric acid is coconut oil, with certain coconut products consisting of nearly 50 percent lauric acid.
However, experts are unsure how the body converts lauric acid into monolaurin, and at what rates.
As a result, it is not yet possible to say how much coconut must be consumed to receive enough monolaurin to treat or prevent certain illnesses.
Lauric acid is mainly found in:
- dietary supplements
- coconut oil
- coconut cream
- fresh coconut
- coconut milk
- human breast milk
While monolaurin has GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it has not been evaluated as a treatment for any condition.
As a result, there are no dosage guidelines available, and the limited amount of research does not allow scientists to formulate an appropriate range of doses.
It is likely that the appropriate dose of monolaurin depends on several factors, including:
- health status
- presence of other conditions
If someone is taking coconut oil as a source of lauric acid, the ideal dosage may also depend on the body's ability to convert the acid into monolaurin.
Risks and side effects
Before taking monolaurin, it is recommended to speak to a healthcare professional, especially if pregnant or taking any medication.
Monolaurin is considered safe to consume in the amounts commonly found in foods. It is not yet known if medicinal amounts of monolaurin are safe.
The main risk associated with consuming or applying monolaurin relates to those with a coconut allergy.
Anyone who is allergic to coconuts should not use coconut oil or monolaurin that has been made from coconut products.
At present, there are no other known risks or complications associated with taking monolaurin in supplement form, but that does not prove that supplements are safe either. It is also not known if monolaurin interacts with any medications.
To stay on the safe side, people should speak to a pharmacist or doctor before taking monolaurin, especially if they are:
- taking any medications
- diagnosed with any medical conditions
Those taking monolaurin supplements should follow the dosing guidelines on the packet carefully.
Current scientific research into monolaurin is limited.
The majority of studies have looked at the effects of monolaurin on viruses, bacteria, and fungi in test tubes and petri dishes. Nonetheless, the results are promising, and research on humans and animals is ongoing.
Coupled with the worldwide concern about antibiotic resistance, this may mean that monolaurin or lauric acid could become a viable treatment option in the future.
At present, anecdotal evidence suggests that monolaurin supplements or lauric acid from coconut oil may help prevent or treat some health conditions. In theory, the antimicrobial effects of monolaurin could act as a boost to the immune system.
As the risks associated with monolaurin ingestion are low, there are few downsides to including natural monolaurin in your diet. However, as the FDA do not monitor supplements, the risks can increase when using processed supplements.