With chemical additives in personal care products causing increasing concern, new research unveiling a natural antibiotic for oral health couldn't have come at a better time. Digested coconut oil is able to attack bacteria that cause tooth decay, a team from the Athlone Institute of Technology has found.
The scientists tested the antibacterial action of coconut oil in its natural state and coconut oil that had been treated with enzymes, in a process similar to digestion. The oils were tested against strains of Streptococcus bacteria, which are commonly found in the mouth. They found that enzyme-modified coconut oil strongly inhibited the growth of most strains of the bacteria, including Streptococcus mutans - an acid-producing bacterium that is a major cause of tooth decay.
"Dental caries is a commonly overlooked health problem affecting 60 to 90 per cent of children and the majority of adults in industrialised countries," says lead researcher Dr Damien Brady. "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."
Brady says the findings also contribute to knowledge about antibacterial activity in the human gut. "Our data suggests that products of human digestion show antimicrobial activity. This could have implications for how bacteria colonise the cells lining the digestive tract and for overall gut health."
Many previous studies have shown that partially digested foodstuffs are active against micro-organisms. Earlier work on enzyme-modified milk showed that it was able to reduce the binding of Streptococcus mutans to tooth enamel.