Monolaurin is a component of coconut oil. People say it increases their immune response, making them more resilient to bacterial, viral and fungal infections. Does science back them up? Read on to find out and be ready for a few surprising drawbacks of using monolaurin regularly.
What is Monolaurin?
Monolaurin, also known as glyceryl monolaurate, glyceryl laurate, or 1-Lauroyl-glycerol, is a monoglyceride (a single molecule of glycerol attached to a fatty acid) .
Some scientists believe monolaurin might be a promising antimicrobial. Ongoing research is exploring its antibacterial and antiviral effects and safety .
- Food production: It is used as a food additive, emulsifier, and as a preservative. It is used in the production of ice cream, margarine, and spaghetti [7, 8, 9, 10].
- Manufacturing: It is commonly used in deodorants, cosmetics, detergents, and insecticides and as equipment sanitizers in manufacturing [7, 8, 9, 10].
- Dietary supplement: Monolaurin is also taken as a dietary supplement .
Monolaurin supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use. Supplements generally lack solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for them but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.
Despite the lack of evidence, people use monolaurin to prevent bacterial, fungal, and viral infections. Allegedly, it also helps with skin conditions, strengthens the immune system, and balances bacteria in the gut. However, clinical studies are lacking [12, 13, 11, 14].
Mechanism of Action
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 [15, 16].
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 [17, 18].
Researchers hypothesize that monolaurin incorporates itself into the cell membrane of gram-positive bacteria and destroys them by breaking down the cell membrane. Theoretically, this stops bacteria from replicating and spreading, making it easier for the immune system to destroy them .
In cells, monolaurin also stops the production of most Staphylococcal toxins and other proteins at the bacterial DNA level. It also blocks the production of beta-lactamases, which are responsible for resistance to penicillins, extended-spectrum cephalosporins, monobactams, and carbapenems. Its effects on humans, however, are unknown [20, 21, 22].
Claimed Health Benefits of Monolaurin
No valid evidence supports the use of monolaurin for infections or any of the conditions listed in this section.
Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts.
However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit. Monolaurin should not be used for any of the conditions described below due to the complete lack of safety and efficacy data in humans.
1) Effects on Bacteria
- Bacillus subtilis
- Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
- Bacillus anthracis, which produces toxins and is abused in bioterrorism
Monolaurin might not be active against most gram-negative bacteria like Salmonella, which has a different kind of outer cell membrane than gram-positive bacteria .
In contrast to this general finding, monolaurin was able to inhibit the growth of both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria in skin cells .
A cell study compared monolaurin and 6 common antibiotics (including penicillin, oxacillin, and vancomycin) against bacteria causing skin infections. Monolaurin showed promise and animal studies are needed .
However, there are various super strains of vancomycin–resistant Enterococcus (VRE) that have developed partial (up to 70%) resistance to monolaurin. Mutated Enterococcus bacteria had learned to tighten their cell walls, making it more difficult for monolaurin to get in .
Monolaurin had no adverse effect on gut bacteria in dishes. Its effect on gut bacteria in humans is unknown .
In bacteria, monolaurin combined with monocaprin, lauric acid, or monomyristin had better results against Staphylococcus aureus .
Untreated mice injected with Staphylococcus aureus died within a week. However, 50% of mice given vancomycin and monolaurin daily survived for 30 days .
Additionally, over 60% of mice survived when receiving a daily combination of origanum oil and monolaurin .
In another mice study, the groups receiving vancomycin, monolaurin, or a combination of both showed some protection against S. aureus (50 to 70% survival rate) .
Monolaurin was active against the bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) that causes Lyme disease in dishes. Some people with recurrent Lyme disease take coconut oil, as recommended by some alternative practitioners. Evidence doesn’t support this practice, as clinical data are nonexistent [37, 32].
2) Effects on Viruses
Scientists investigated whether monolaurin inhibits several fat-coated viruses that infect humans and animals. Fat-coated viruses can live in your body fat for years and interfere with your metabolism. Monolaurin is hypothesized to weaken or disintegrates viruses’ fat coatings and kill them. However, its effects in humans are unknown .
In dishes, monolaurin showed activity against the following viruses, which have fat envelopes :
- 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
- Sarcoma virus
- Syncytial virus
Monolaurin was investigated against Herpes viruses, which cause cold sores and genital herpes, in cells .
It was also researched against the swine flu and Herpes varicella-zoster virus (causing chickenpox and reactivating to cause shingles), which has a fat envelope. However, no human trials were ever carried out [40, 41].
Monolaurin shows antiviral activity in animals against Herpes simplex virus (which causes cold sores) .
However, monolaurin (5% glycerol monolaurate in warming jelly or saltwater) greatly increased genital herpes transmission in mice .
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 .
3) Effects on Yeast
Researchers are investigating if monolaurin may inactivate or destroy various fungi and yeasts. These include several species of ringworm. It was studied against Candida albicans, which is present in the mouth, gut, and female reproductive system [38, 23, 44].
In a study of 36 women with yeast vaginal infections, monolaurin was effective against Candida albicans. More research is needed .
4) Effects on Parasites
Monolaurin was researched against the parasite Giardia lamblia .
Animal research indicates that the intestinal parasites Giardia lamblia and Entamoeba histolytica may respond to a combination of metronidazole (an anti-parasitic drug) and monolaurin .
5) Immune Defense
Some people take monolaurin as an immune booster. Monolaurin is also a supplement users say improves immune function in chronic fatigue syndrome. Clinical evidence is lacking to support this use.
Scientists are investigating monolaurin’s effects on T-cell function. Better T-cell function helps the body recognize and kill bacteria and viruses. It’s also being studied against the viruses potentially responsible for infections in chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome [47, 48, 11].
6) May Help with Weight Control
Some controversial theories suggest that fat-coated viruses can live in body fat and disturb metabolism, promoting obesity. Supporters are investigating whether monolaurin may assist in weight management by killing these stored viruses, though no valid evidence has yet been published .
In a study of 9 healthy overweight men, consumption of medium-chain fatty acids increased calorie burning and fat breakdown (through oxidation), reducing fat storage. More research is needed .
7) Skin Health
Monolaurin might be active against skin infections, so it is being researched for acne .
A study in two dermatology clinics showed that coconut oil, which contains monolaurin, might help people with Staphylococcus aureus infected eczema. Large-scale studies are lacking .
Monolaurin research looked into the potential of this compound to affect Alzheimer’s disease, which has been linked to herpes infection .
In Alzheimer’s patients, the presence of herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1) in the brain people with the type 4 allele of the apolipoprotein E gene has been positively associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s .
Medium-chain fatty acids, such as lauric acid, are present in coconut oil and convert into monolaurin in the body. The liver can convert them into ketones, which are an important alternative energy source for the brain. In theory, they may be beneficial to people with memory impairment, but evidence is lacking .
Is Monolaurin Safe?
According to the United States by the Food and Drug Administration, monolaurin is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) .
Monolaurin is likely safe when used in small amounts (i.e in foods). However, safety data is lacking to determine its long-term health effects, especially in higher amounts .
Do not use monolaurin if you have a coconut allergy.
Monolaurin should be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding due to a lack of safety data.
Some people report short-term side effects and caused by the alleged “die-off” effect. In some circles, this is referred to as the Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction, a highly controversial and unproven theory, especially in the way it is referred to in popular health blogs.
According to this theory, when large numbers of infecting organisms die quickly, these microbes give off toxins as they die .
The symptoms are temporary and may include:
- Muscle pain
- Skin rash
This concept may hold in people with serious infections such as syphilis, but it has also received a lot of criticism from the scientific community when people who don’t have life-threatening infections talk about it .
Bloggers say they avoid this die-off reaction by building up to a full dose gradually (over about 7 to 10 days). If adverse effects occur, they stop taking monolaurin for a day or two “to give their body a little extra time to remove the dead organisms.” Then they start again at a lower dosage and gradually increase, “until their body can handle it.” This approach remains completely unproven .
Inflammatory and Immune Side Effects
In mice, monolaurin worsens multiple sclerosis, in which the immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers and causes communication problems between the brain and the rest of the body .
The potential interactions between monolaurin and drugs are unknown due to a lack of data.
The antibacterial effectiveness of monolaurin in the food industry may be reduced significantly in high-fat or low-starch food products, but is not affected by proteins .
Monolaurin has not been evaluated by the FDA for any medical condition, while clinical studies are few. No dosing guidelines can be established .
If someone is taking coconut oil as a source of lauric acid, one theory suggests that the ideal dosage may also depend on the body’s genetic ability to convert the acid into monolaurin.
Dr. Jon Kabara, Ph.D., who discovered monolaurin in mother’s milk in the 1960s and sells a supplement called Lauricidin has dosing recommendations that are based only on his clinical experience and have not been scientifically verified.
He claims that the monolaurin yield from coconut oil is no more than 3% .
He also claims that people need to take 3 – 9g of monolaurin in order to experience a significant effect.
According to him and the usage instructions on his supplement, adults should start with 750 mg of monolaurin two to three times per day for one week, then take 1,500 mg, and maintain at 3,000 mg, two to three times per day. In stubborn cases this may be increased, he claims.
Assuming you get 3% monolaurin from coconut oil, that means in order to get 750mg 3x a day, one would have to consume close to 6 tablespoons a day, which is excessive.
To get the upper dosage suggested by Kabara (9g monolaurin), one would need to consume about 22 tablespoons of coconut oil in a day, which is unreasonable.
However, there is insufficient data to back up the claim that people get only 4% of monolaurin from all types of coconut oil.
It’s important to note that Kabara has a vested interest in selling his supplements, so his information may not be reliable. Also, coconut oil contains other antimicrobial fats and compounds not found in pure monolaurin. For example, lauric acid itself is antimicrobial.
Monolaurin is quite bitter. Supplements are available in capsule, pellets and powder. It is also available in a lip balm.
The richest food source of lauric acid is coconut oil (up to 50% lauric acid). It is also present in coconut milk, coconut water, and solid coconut. Your body can convert lauric acid into monolaurin. It is not known how much coconut must be consumed to receive enough monolaurin .
Lauric acid is mainly found in :
- Coconut oil (50%)
- Coconut cream
- Coconut milk
- Human breast milk (12%)
- Goat and cow milk (contain only a small percentage of lauric acid)
Monolaurin vs. Lauricidin vs. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is an edible oil harvested from the meat of mature coconuts (Cocos nucifera). Roughly 40 to 60% of coconut oil is comprised of lauric acid .
Monolaurin is the highly purified glycerol ester of lauric acid and is more biologically active than lauric acid .
Lauricidin is a commercially available product. It combines lauric acid from coconut oil with a plant-based glycerol (non-soy), creating the purified ester known as monolaurin .
Many holistic doctors report that they see improvement in clients’ overall sense of well-being. The improvement in energy is the most talked-about.
However, users complained about its bad taste. Also, some people did not experience any health benefits from monolaurin supplementation.
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