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Does Coconut Oil Kill Bacteria? Getting Down to the Truth

August 7, 2021

Despite numerous reports, coconut oil is only effective against specific strains of bacteria.

A lot of my patients are constantly looking for natural solutions which is why I am often asked about the antibacterial nature of coconut oil. While I am aware of the impact of coconut oil on the gastrointestinal system, I did further research into how it affected the rest of the immune system. 

In this post you can learn just which strains coconut oil is effective against and what it will not work on. Here is what you need to know!

Is Coconut Oil An Antibacterial?

When you talk about coconut oil having antibacterial properties, there are a lot of factors at play here.

The biggest issue with experiments based on coconut oil is that scientists and researchers rarely actually use the coconut oil you find on the shelves in your grocery store. Instead, they will extract various components such as lauric acid and capric acid. They will then use these substances to test for antibacterial effects.

On top of this, the scientists also uses highly concentrated doses of these extracted components. Such levels do not occur in natural coconut oil. Therefore, while substances like lauric acid may be antimicrobial, there is no guarantee that you can achieve the same results with regular coconut oil.

using antibacterial for cleaning hands

So, what does this mean, then?

Well, essentially it isn’t that coconut oil can’t be antibacterial. Rather, the actual antimicrobial activity of coconut oil is much lower than most people realize. Thus, the effect of the coconut oil is limited to very specific strains of bacteria. What’s more, it is unlikely that coconut oil will have as much of an impact as is needed to get rid of a strain completely.

This doesn’t mean that all hope is lost, though. In one study, researchers found that virgin coconut oil was quite effective against Staphylococcus aureus. In particular, the oil worked to destroy the cells of the bacteria while simultaneously increasing the capabilities of the body’s phagocytic cells.

Which Coconut Oil Is Best For Antibacterial Activity?

  As you are well aware, there are various types of coconut oil. Most people are aware of refined and unrefined oil, but there is less conversation around fractionated coconut oil. This is because it is largely used for skin and hair care.

In reality, though, fractionated coconut oil may have a greater antibacterial effect than any other kind of oil, including unrefined coconut oil. When tested against Pseudomonasaeruginosa, Staphylococcusaureus, Staphylococcus epidermidis, and Propionibacterium acnes, hydrolyzed coconut oil had quite an impact against the strains.

It should be noted that traditional antibiotics were proven to be more effective than coconut oil in this case.

Another in vitro study found that hydrolyzed coconut oil had a beneficial impact against Salmonella typhi and Salmonella typhimurium. While the oil didn’t kill off all the bacteria, researchers did notice that there were fewer colonies. As such, coconut oil may play a preventative role here.

Of course, it can be difficult to determine just how well the coconut oil will perform in real-world circumstances.

There is some evidence that virgin coconut oil has more medium fatty acid chains than refined coconut oil. While it may not have the same impact as the hydrolyzed version, it is still something that you can use in your food or for your skin and hair, if you choose.

Does Coconut Oil Kill Bacteria In Your Mouth?

Oil pulling has become pretty reason in the last few years. People will swish coconut oil in their mouth, allowing it to move in between the spaces of their teeth and coat the surfaces of their teeth as well. This is done because many believe that coconut oil can improve your dental health.

Can it, though? Well, the research does appear to be split in this case.

oil bottles

In one randomized controlled trial, participants who tried coconut oil pulling had smaller quantities of Streptococcus mutans in their saliva. The oil worked better than both sesame oil and saline. However, in another study, there was no change in the size of the S. mutans colony, despite participants following the treatment protocol for two weeks.   

Since there isn’t any conclusive proof, you can certainly give oil pulling a try to determine if there is a positive effect for you. Keep in mind that even if it works that coconut oil would only provide a measure of prevention. You still have to ensure that you follow other oral health habits to ensure that your teeth and gums are in good condition.

On the plus side, coconut oil does appear to be effective against plaque formation on teeth. Dental students who tried oil pulling were found with less amounts of plaque on their teeth in comparison to their counterparts who weren’t following the regimen.

It should be noted that the effects were only seen on the seventh day of the experiment, however. Thus, you will not only need to try out the treatment for a while, but you also may need to continue with it if it is to remain as effective.

Does Coconut Oil Kill Bacteria On Face?

As mentioned in a previous section, hydrolyzed coconut oil does appear to be effective against Propionibacterium acnes, which can cause an infection that causes acne on the skin. Therefore, if this is the kind of bacteria that you are worried about, then coconut oil may be able to help.

Keep in mind that coconut oil can be a bit of a double edged sword in these circumstances, though. While it can fight the bacteria that causes acne, it can also be comedogenic, which means that it can block your pores. In doing so, acne can actually worsen.

Thus, coconut oil as a treatment is better for those who don’t have oily or sensitive skin.

One report also determined that coconut oil helped to reduce populations of S. aureus on the skin. This type of bacteria can cause boils and other skin infections. In addition to preventing the increase of bacteria, the coconut oil also helped to prevent dryness of the skin, allowing it to heal more efficiently. 

The Final Verdict

To wrap things up, coconut oil isn’t nearly as antibacterial as most people would imagine. While the lauric acid in coconut oil can be quite beneficial against microbes, the naturally occurring concentration isn’t high enough in regular coconut oil.

This doesn’t mean that coconut oil doesn’t have its uses, though. Hydrolyzed coconut oil is effective against certain strains of bacteria and virgin coconut oil may be able to help with acne. Oil pulling with coconut oil could ward off plaque as well.

When in doubt, though, always ask your doctor how to proceed with any kind of infection. In most cases, the antibacterial effect of coconut oil isn’t very strong and may not be enough to completely stave off or cure an infection. Therefore, you shouldn’t rely solely on it, you will probably need antibiotics to help deal with most medical issues.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure to check out our Pinterest page. We have plenty of other posts on all the benefits of consuming and using coconut oil. See what they are today!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Riya Borah
Nutritionist Educator | Riya Borah is a nutritionist educator and her job involves guiding people towards a healthier lifestyle. Growing up in India, Riya was aware of just how much coconut was used on a daily basis. This encouraged her to research the properties of this versatile drupe. It opened her eyes to both the limitation and possibilities of coconut. Her aim is to now educate as many people as possible about the best ways to utilize coconut in their own lives.
An Important Disclaimer
The information on this page should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Consult a doctor if you wish to consume any kind of tea regularly for the purpose of treating any condition or illness.
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