Coconut oil as become one of the hottest trends over the past several years but at the time of writing this, the pendulum has started to swing back.
Coconut oil again is under fire for it’s ‘saturated fat’ content and some fear mongering is resurfacing.
Coconut oil is used for cooking, sauteing, baking, as a skin moisturizer and more but it’s also promoted for having medicinal properties, notably as an antimicrobial agent because it contains caprylic acid.
What is caprylic acid?
Caprylic acid is a type of saturated fatty acid known as medium chain triglycerides or MCT.
Other MCTs include caproic acid, capric acid and lauric acid.
Foods containing caprylic acid include butter, cheese, whole milk, full-yogurt from grass-fed cows and palm oil. Of all the foods high in caprylic acid, coconut and coconut oil are the most popular. About 6.8% of the MCTs in coconut is caprylic acid.
This beneficial saturated fatty acid boasts antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties.
It’s been promoted for the prevention of urinary tract infections, bladder infections, acne, sexually transmitted diseases and for different types of intestinal infections.
Caprylic acid benefits
As mentioned, caprylic acid has been shown to have antibacterial and antifungal properties (1).
In the natural health world, caprylic acid has been most promoted as a candidiasis albicans treatment for overgrowth.
What is candida albican?
Candida albican is one of many different types of fungus that live in and on the human body. It’s the type of yeast that normally lives in small amounts in places like your mouth, belly, on your skin, genitals, and in your digestive tract.
Normally it doesn’t cause any problems. Other microorganisms that live in your body, like your gut bacteria, can keep the candida in check, as does your immune system. But when the environment is right, the yeast can multiply and grow out of control. The infection it causes is called candidiasis
Candidiasis, or overgrowth syndrome, can present with irritable bowel syndrome-like symptoms, abdominal bloating, constipation, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, and even sugar cravings.
What causes candida overgrowth?
One cause of candidiasis is an impaired immune system. Both intestinal candida overgrowth and oral candida overgrowth (oral thrush) are seen in HIV/AIDS and during cancer treatment. But there are other factors that can increase the risk candidiasis (2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
- Diabetes (microorganisms live in high sugar environments)
- Oral contraceptives
- A diet high in sugar and refined carbs
- Large intake of alcohol
- A weakened immune system
How to treat candida overgrowth? Caprylic acid for one
Candida albicans treatment is typically antifungal medication. And rightfully so, antifungals are your ally for candida albican infection but is there anything food related or derived that might offer support?
Caprylic acid has been promoted as an antifungal for intestinal candidiasis. A treatment I was first introduced to (almost 20 years ago) was by a friend who was diagnosed with canadida overgrowth. She was told to put bentonite clay, psyllium husks and caprylic acid in a mason jar, shake and drink.
There is some evidence of caprylic acid’s ability to treat various health issues (7). Caprylic acid’s natural yeast-fighting abilities primarily lies in its ability to penetrate the cell membranes of candida yeast cells, causing them to die (8).
Taking caprylic acid regularly may help to maintain the balance of microorganisms in the intestines encouraging the growth of beneficial microflora within the digestive tract, warding any future candida overgrowth by also keeping viruses found in the gut, in check (9, 10)
Unlike antibiotics which ‘carpet bomb’ the gut and kill off lots of other bacteria and microorganisms as collateral damage, caprylic acid does not; in fact, it promotes the growth of beneficial microbiota.
A balanced and diverse microbiota has been shown to support your immune function, associated with lowered risk for allergies, better brain function, improved hormonal health, lower risk for obesity, and lower inflammations levels.
Coconut Oil vs caprylic acid
As mentioned, caprylic acid is found in coconut oil. However, medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) oils products are positioning themselves to be superior to coconut oil in terms of MCT content.
There are four different kinds of MCTs depending on the number of carbons ‘C’: caprioc acid (C6:0), caprylic acid c8 (C8:0), capric (C10:0) and lauric (C12:0) acids. MCTs can be found in food and coconut oil but MCT oils have more concentrated levels of MCTs including caprylic acid.
Most MCT products are mixes of caprylic (C8:0) and capric (C10:0), typically in a 50:50 ratio or you can also get 100% pure caprylic acid.
Caprylic acid dose
How much caprylic acid in a tablespoon of coconut oil?
Coconut oil has a mere 1.4 g of caprylic acid per tablespoon versus 7 grams for a blended MCT product versus 14 g for pure caprylic acid. As you can see, caprylic acid from coconut oil pales in comparison. Coconut oil is still a perfectly good oil to use cooking etc but not the best if you want a potential therapeutic dose.
As a caprylic acid supplement, MCT oil a or specialty oil that’s pure caprylic acid like Bullet Proof Brain Octane Oil, is the way to go.
What is the ideal caprylic acid dose?
This is difficult to answer. There aren’t any well designed studies supporting the ideal dose of caprylic acid to treat candidiasis. As a fat, caprylic acid is absorbed very quickly and efficiently into the lymph system like any other fat.
It’s likely that MCT oils or coconut oils will have a minimal effect as a candidiasis albicans treatment. Minimal is still better than no effect so it may be worth a try.
Alternatively, for a more consistent delivery and therefore dose. It would be better to try time-released or enteric coated caprylic acid supplements like enteric coated peppermint oil is used in IBS.
A three-to-four month course of caprylic acid is typically used in the natural health world. The usual recommended dosage is 1,000 to 2,000 mg three times a day with meals.
Some suggest that you start with a smaller dose (500 mg once or twice a day) and then slowly increase your dose by adding one capsule every two to three days until you reach the full recommended dose.
Are there any caprylic acid side effects?
Caprylic acid appears to pose little to no risk from toxicity when consumed as a supplement at levels up to 15% of total calories or about 50% of total fat.
People add caprylic acid to coffee, in smoothies are as a their oil of choice for salads and cooked vegetables.
In short, MCT oil and coconut oil do have the similar antimicrobial and antifungal benefits. Because MCT oil is more concentrated with MCTs, some experts argue that the reason why the benefits of coconut oil as an antifungal are questionable, is because of the small amount of caprylic acid.
Those with frequent stomach problems or sensitive stomachs should exercise caution. Taking MCT oils can cause stomach upset. I’ve noticed this when I’ve added it to coffee but not when I’ve used in on cooked vegetables or on salads.
Start slowly when adding MCT oils to your diet. This can help your system adapt to it. It’s also important to note that MCT oil (and coconut oil for that matter), are still a type of oil so they’re high in fat. Just one tablespoon has over 13 grams of fat.
What those calories, they do add up 😉
Ultimately, both MCT oil and coconut oil are beneficial, particularly for gut health. However, if your aim is to consume capric acid and caprylic acid to use as an antimicrobial, then MCT oil is probably more of what you’re after.
Coconut oil is largely lauric acid (C12). And while coconut oil is a great source of MCTs, its MCT levels are only roughly 62–65%, much less than pure MCT oil.