Public Release: 

Coconut oil shows promise in the prevention of deadly bloodstream infection

American Society for Microbiology

Washington, DC - November 18, 2015 - Coconut oil may be effective at combating infection with Candida albicans, according to a study published November 18th in the American Society for Microbiology's new open access journal mSphere. The study found that coconut oil consumption reduced gastrointestinal colonization by C. albicans in mice.

"We found that diet can be an effective way to reduce the amount of Candida in the mouse," said lead study author Carol Kumamoto, PhD, professor of molecular biology and microbiology, Tufts University School of Medicine. "The extension of this finding to the human population is something that needs to be addressed in the future."

C. albicans is part of the normal gut microbiome of humans and some animals. In immunocompromised individuals and older adults, however, C. albicans can leave the gut, enter the bloodstream, and cause invasive infection affecting organs including the kidneys, liver, spleen, lungs, brain, and heart valves. Roughly 40% to 50% of individuals who have systemic C. albicans infection will die from it. "People who get this disease are very sick and generally in the hospital. We are talking about cancer patients, people who receive transplants, premature infants, intensive care unit patients with catheters, and sometimes the elderly," said Dr. Kumamoto. "Candida is one of the most common causes of bloodstream infections in hospitalized patients."

Clinicians can use antifungal drugs to prevent C. albicans infection in some high-risk patients, but this isn't ideal because it can contribute to the emergence of drug resistant strains. Previous research has shown that changes to diet, including changes in the amount and type of fat, can alter gastrointestinal microbiota. In vitro studies have shown that coconut oil, in particular, has antifungal properties.

In a new NIH-funded study, Dr. Kumamoto and Alice H Lichtenstein, D.Sc., director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University designed high fat diets containing coconut oil, beef tallow, soybean oil or a standard diet. Mice were fed these diets for 14 days prior to inoculation with C. albicans and 21 days following. At 21 days post inoculation, gastrointestinal colonization with C. albicans was significantly lower in the stomach contents of mice fed the coconut oil diet than mice fed the beef tallow diet (P<0.0001), soybean oil diet (P<0.0001), or the standard diet (P<0.0001). "When you compared a mouse on a high fat diet that contained either beef fat or soy bean oil to mice eating coconut oil, there was about a ten-fold drop in colonization," said Dr. Kumamoto.

In another experiment, the researchers switched mice on the beef fat diet to the coconut oil diet. "Four days after the change in diet, the colonization changed so it looked almost exactly like what you saw in a mouse who had been on coconut oil the entire time," said Dr. Kumamoto.

"There are two directions that we would like to take with this research now," said Dr. Kumamoto. "One of them is finding out the mechanism of how this works. That is a big question we would like to answer. The second question is whether this can have any impact on humans." The researchers are in discussion with Joseph Bliss, M.D., Ph.D., at Women and Infants Hospital of Rhode Island to launch a clinical trial testing coconut oil in hospitalized infants at high-risk for developing systemic candidiasis.


To learn more about mSphere please visit

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