Oil from the humble coconut may thwart an invasive, potentially deadly, fungus, according to new research from Tufts University. Researchers found that coconut oil controlled the overgrowth of a fungal pathogen called Candida albicans (C. ablicans) in mice. In people, high levels of the stuff in the gastrointestinal tract can lead to bloodstream infections. Candida is one of the most common causes of bloodstream infections in hospitalized patients.
Researchers found that coconut oil reduced the amount of C. albicans in the guts of mice by more than 90 percent.
The research, published in mSphere and noted on sciencedaily.com, suggests that it might be possible to use dietary approaches instead of antifungal drugs to help patients. Antifungal drugs can lead to drug-resistant strains of the fungus.
"We want to give clinicians a treatment option that might limit the need for antifungal drugs. If we can use coconut oil as a safe, dietary alternative, we could decrease the amount of antifungal drugs used, reserving antifungal drugs for critical situations," lead author Kearney Gunsalus, Ph.D., an Institutional Research and Academic Career Development (IRACDA) postdoctoral fellow at the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences, said in a university release. Previous research found that vitamin B3 may also be an effective alternative to antifungal drugs.
"Food can be a powerful ally in reducing the risk of disease,” 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, said the Tufts release. "This study marks a first step in understanding how life-threatening yeast infections in susceptible individuals might be reduced through the short-term and targeted use of a specific type of fat.”