Coconut oil attacks tooth decay

Digested coconut oil could become part of the armory used to combat tooth decay, report researchers presenting their findings at the Society for General Microbiology's Autumn Conference in Warwick, UK.

Their results show that within an hour of exposing Streptococcus bacteria including S. mutans - one of the primary causes of dental caries - to the enzyme-modified coconut oil, the harmful bacteria had been eradicated.

"Dental caries is a commonly overlooked health problem affecting 60-90% of children and the majority of adults in industrialized countries," said co-author Damien Brady (Athlone Institute of Technology School of Science, Ireland) in a press release associated with the study.

"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," added Brady.

Previous studies indicate that lipids have antibacterial qualities, particularly fatty acids, remark Brady and team, who examined the anti-Streptococcus activity of coconut oil - a source of medium-chain fatty acids.

However, the oil proved not to be growth inhibitory at first. It was only after modification by enzymes mimicking the digestive process that coconut oil had its effect.

The finding contributes to the understanding of the antibacterial activity of the human gut, said Brady, who explained that this "could have implications for how bacteria colonize the cells lining the digestive tract and for overall gut health."

"Our research has shown that digested milk protein not only reduced the adherence of harmful bacteria [S. mutans] 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," Brady concluded.

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