The team from the Athlone Institute of Technology tested the antibacterial action of coconut oil in its natural state and then oil treated with enzymes in a process similar to digestion.
The two forms of the oil were then tested against strains of Streptoccus bacteria which commonly live in the mouth.
They found that the enzyme treated oil strongly inhibited the growth of most strains of Streptoccus bacteria includin Streptococcus mutans – the acid producing bacterium that is a major cause of tooth decay.
The group also found that the modified oil was also harmful to the yeast Candida albicans that can cause thrush.
Previous studies have shown that partially digested foods are active against micro-organisms.
The researchers suggest that the modified coconut oil has potential as a commercial anti-mic robial which could be of particular interest to the oral healthcare industry.
Dr Damien Brady who is leading the research said, “Dental caries is a commonly overlooked health problem affecting 60-90% of children and the majority of adults in industrialized countries. “Incorporating enzyme-modified coconut oil 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.”
“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.
“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 added.
The results of the Athlone study were presented at the Society for General Microbiology’s Autumn Conference at the University of Warwick.