Coconuts may take a bite out of tooth decay

By Jasminee Sahoye

HealthScientists in Ireland have discovered that digested coconut oil attacks the bacteria that cause tooth decay.

They say it’s a natural antibiotic that could be incorporated into commercial dental care products.

The team from Athlone Institute of Technology tested the antibacterial action of coconut oil in its natural state and coconut oil that had been treated with enzymes, in a process similar to digestion.

The oils were tested against strains of streptococcus bacteria which are common inhabitants of the mouth. They found that enzyme-modified coconut oil strongly inhibited the growth of most strains of streptococcus bacteria including streptococcus mutans (S.mutans) – an acid-producing bacterium that is a major cause of tooth decay.

Earlier study on enzyme-modified milk showed it was able to reduce the binding of S. mutans to tooth enamel, which prompted the group to investigate the effect of other enzyme-modified foods on bacteria.

Additional testing by the Athlone Institute of Technology scientists found that enzyme-modified coconut oil was also harmful to the yeast candida albicans that can cause thrush.

They suggest that enzyme-modified coconut oil has potential as a marketable antimicrobial which could be of particular interest to the oral healthcare industry.

Dr. Damien Brady who is leading the research 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.”

He added that their data suggests 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,” explained Brady. “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.”

In another study, researchers at the Biotechnology Centre at the Federal University of Paraiba in Brazil set out to test the hypothesis that a combination of daily coconut oil intake and exercise training would restore baroreflex sensitivity and reduce oxidative stress, resulting in reduction in blood pressure.

Their experiments were performed in spontaneously hypertensive rats. They found that both coconut oil and exercise training were able to reduce weight gain compared to rats that were given saline and were not exposed to the exercise training protocol along the five weeks of study.

Either coconut oil supplementation or exercise training was shown to reduce blood pressure. However, only combined coconut oil and exercise training were able to bring the pressure back to normotensive values. The reduction in blood pressure caused by the combination of coconut oil supplementation and exercise training might be explained by the improvement of the reduced baroreflex sensitivity and by the reduction in oxidative stress in the serum, heart and aorta.

“This is an important finding as coconut oil is currently being considered a popular ‘superfood’ and it is being consumed by athletes and the general population who seek a healthy lifestyle,” explained Dr. Valdir de Andrade Braga, co-author of the study.