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Can Monolaurin Fight Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Written by Carlos Tello, PhD (Molecular Biology) | Last updated:
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Carlos Tello, PhD (Molecular Biology) | Last updated:

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Note that each number in parentheses [1, 2, 3, etc.] is a clickable link to peer-reviewed scientific studies. A plus sign next to the number “[1+, 2+, etc...]” means that the information is found within the full scientific study rather than the abstract.

This article is for informational purposes only. The current coronavirus outbreak is an ongoing event and certain details may change as new information comes to light. No effective or FDA-approved products are currently available for the treatment of the new coronavirus (also known as SARS-CoV-2 or 2019-nCoV), although research is still ongoing.

Anti Infection Potential

Monolaurin might be active against viruses that have a fat (lipid) membrane on the outside. Since monolaurin is the same size as the fat molecule of the virus, it absorbs into the cell’s fat layer. Since it does not have good binding power, the skin envelope breaks apart. This prevents the virus from attaching and entering host cells, stopping infection and replication. Have in mind that this is still just an unproven theory based on cellular studies [1, 2].

Scientists think monolaurin might disrupt virus replication by blocking DNA replication signals. In the lab, when monolaurin binds to the viral envelope, it makes the virus more susceptible to the immune system [3, 4].

Glycerol monolaurate protected apes from infection with an HIV-related virus (SIV) and inhibited the immune response against this virus in cells [5]. 

In dishes, monolaurin showed activity against the following viruses, which have fat envelopes [6]:

  • Cytomegalovirus [7]
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • HIV-1, HIV+
  • Measles virus
  • Herpes simplex virus-1 and 2
  • Herpesviridae (all)
  • Human lymphotropic viruses (type 1)
  • Vesicular stomatitis virus
  • Visna virus
  • Influenza virus
  • Varicella zoster (chickenpox) [8]
  • Swine flu [9]
  • Pneumovirus
  • Sarcoma virus
  • Syncytial virus

Monolaurin shows antiviral activity in animals against Herpes simplex virus (which causes cold sores) [10].

However, monolaurin (5% glycerol monolaurate in warming jelly or saltwater) greatly increased genital herpes transmission in mice, possibly by disrupting the barrier function of the vaginal lining [11].

There are many anecdotal reports of monolaurin helping combat the flu. There is no valid evidence to back them up. Monolaurin from human breast milk was effective against cytomegalovirus (CMV) but was not effective against the cold-causing virus, rhinovirus [7].

Taken together, these studies suggest that monolaurin damages the fatty envelope of viruses and could also be effective against SARS-CoV-2. However, there is no evidence that this would help prevent or treat COVID-19 in humans.

Immune System

Glycerol monolaurate increased the proliferation of T cells (but not B cells) [12].

However, another study found that this compound also alters the fatty membrane of T cells, resulting in changes in their signaling and function (e.g., reduced production of cytokines such as IL-2, IFN-γ, TNF-α, and IL-10) [13].

This implies that monolaurin may impair immune function and potentially do more harm than good in case of COVID-19.

Keep in mind that this is all theory, and there’s no good evidence to know if it would help or be harmful in COVID-19.

About the Author

Carlos Tello

Carlos Tello

PhD (Molecular Biology)
Carlos received his PhD and MS from the Universidad de Sevilla.
Carlos spent 9 years in the laboratory investigating mineral transport in plants. He then started working as a freelancer, mainly in science writing, editing, and consulting. Carlos is passionate about learning the mechanisms behind biological processes and communicating science to both academic and non-academic audiences. He strongly believes that scientific literacy is crucial to maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid falling for scams.

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