Coconut Toothpaste Anyone?

Study Shows Coconut Oil Fights Tooth Decay

Eating too many candy bars and gummy bears might send you to the dentist. But adding coconut into your diet may save you that dreaded trip. Could coconut be the next miracle ingredient toothpaste manufacturers start putting into their products? Many people already brush their teeth with coconut oil to take advantage of its germ-fighting, anti-cavity effects. A new study adds more evidence to coconut oil’s ability to ward of tooth decay.

Tooth decay, or dental caries is an infection that causes the breakdown and eventual destruction of the organic matter of the tooth, and it is one of the most common diseases in the world. New research from the Athlone Institute of Technology inIrelandshows that the unique fatty acids found in coconut oil are able to attack bacteria that cause tooth decay. The findings were recently presented at the Society for General Microbiology’s Autumn Conference 2012 at the University of Warwick, United Kingdom.

The research team tested the antibacterial action of coconut oil in two states. In its natural state, and in a second state where they treated the coconut oil with enzymes to simulate a process similar to digestion, thus breaking down the oil into individual fatty acids. The oils were then tested against strains of Streptococcus bacteria, common inhabitants of the mouth. What they discovered was that the enzyme-modified coconut oil (medium chain fatty acids) strongly inhibited the growth of most strains of Streptococcus bacteria including Streptococcus mutans—an acid-producing bacterium that is the primary causative agent in the formation of dental caries in humans.

This is not the first study to show that partially digested foodstuffs are active against microorganisms. Earlier work on enzyme-modified milk showed that it was able to reduce the binding of Streptococcus mutans to tooth enamel, which prompted the group to investigate the effect of other enzyme-modified foods on bacteria. Like coconut oil, milk is a natural source of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs).

“Dental caries is a commonly overlooked health problem affecting 60-90 percent of children and the majority of adults in industrialized countries,” says Dr Damien Brady who is leading the research. “Incorporating enzyme-modified coconut oil (MCFAs) 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.”

This study, however, is just the first step. The research group will further their study to examine how coconut oil interacts with Streptococcus bacteria at the molecular level and discover which other strains of harmful bacteria and yeasts it is active against. Further testing by the group at the Athlone Institute of Technology found that enzyme-modified coconut oil was also harmful to the yeast Candida albicans that can cause thrush a common oral yeast infection.

The work also contributes to our understanding of antibacterial activity in the human gut. “Our data suggests that 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 Dr 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,” he said.

This study is really nothing new. Studies published 40 years ago showed the same results. However, back then it didn’t generate as much interest as it is today. A number of scientists are now taking notice of the remarkable potential of coconut oil and perusing useful studies with it. It seems that a new generation of scientists, who are more open-minded, are rediscovering the remarkable benefits of coconut oil. It is a shame that the anti-fat, anti-saturated fat mindset that prevailed in medicine over the past three decades caused scientists and doctors to ignore previous studies like these for so long.