'Works like soap': Scientist explains why virgin coconut oil could be COVID-19 cure

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 21 2020 08:53 PM | Updated as of Apr 22 2020 10:50 AM

Virgin coconut oil is extracted from fresh coconut meat. File

MANILA — Virgin coconut oil (VCO) has long been known for its health benefits but it could be next big thing if it is scientifically proven to cure coronavirus disease (COVID-19). 

Dr. Fabian Dayrit, professor emeritus at the Ateneo de Manila University’s Department of Chemistry, said he proposed VCO as a supplement and treatment for COVID-19, due to its antiviral properties.

Dayrit said the easiest analogy would be to compare VCO to soap. He said viruses are usually coated in lipids or an oil-like structure. When a person washes his hand with soap, the membrane of the virus is destroyed because soap is a surfactant that breaks up water or oil. The same can be said for VCO, he added.

“The components of the coconut oil will act on the lipid membrane of the virus and destroy the membrane,” Dayrit said.

Dayrit, who is the vice president of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) and president of the Integrated Chemist of the Philippines, has long been studying VCO.

“The evidence for its anti-viral properties is strong.
And it’s (based on) evidence from different types of studies,” he said in a phone interview with ABS-CBN News.

Dayrit explained that when coconut oil is ingested, enzymes in the body metabolize coconut oil releasing the active compounds, monolaurin and lauric acid. Monolaurin is used to protect farm animals against bacteria and viruses.

VCO also improved the health of HIV patients, based on a 1998 pilot study at the San Lazaro Hospital.

But the team behind the clinical trials for COVID-19 will first need to see favorable results.

Earlier this month, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) said it would fund clinical trials for VCO at the Philippine General Hospital and at various community quarantine facilities in the country.

“The study aims to assess the possible benefits of VCO if given to patients with moderate to severe COVID-19 in addition to the drugs being assessed in the clinical trials,” Science Secretary Fortunato de la Peña said in a statement. 

Both the hospital-based and community-based studies will involve mixing VCO with the food served to patients and persons undergoing quarantine.

Dayrit, who provided the protocol for the study, said volunteers for the community-based study will be given around 3 tablespoons of VCO a day. One tablespoon will be mixed for each meal.

A higher dosage will be given to patients who will join the PGH clinical trial.

Dr. Mario Capanzana, Food and Nutrition Research Institute head, said they will be mixing VCO in the food right before it is served. 

“There will be no heat treatment,” he said, adding that the VCO needs to be consumed in its pure form.

Clinical illustration of coronavirus disease

Capanzana said they will likely ask those who join the community-based study to continue consuming coconut oil even after their quarantine. It will take up to 28 days for each person to complete the treatment, he added. 

“We have certain indicators like for example if they are improving...there are also biochemical indicators. We’ll analyze their blood," said Capanzana, hoping trials can start next week.

“We are just organizing and doing coordination. As soon as we complete the preliminary coordination then we will start the soonest,” he said.

STILL UNDER INVESTIGATION

The World Health Organization (WHO) Philippines, however, reminded the public that the response to COVID-19 should be “guided by science and evidence.”

“There is no robust scientific evidence that virgin coconut oil has protected people from infection with COVID-19,” WHO Philippines told ABS-CBN News.

It also reminded the public that COVID-19 still does not have a cure or vaccine.

“Until there is sufficient evidence, WHO cautions against recommending or administering unproven treatments to patients with COVID-19 or people self-medicating with them,” it added, explaining that “some specific treatments are under investigation, and will be tested through clinical trials.”

The WHO is currently facilitating a multi-country clinical trial for a number of off-label drugs, such as remdesivir, chloroquine, lopinavir and ritonavir, that are being used for experimental treatment of COVID-19 patients.

Dayrit said the VCO as a cure was more promising than drugs like chloroquine, which can cause heart problems. He said coconut oil does not have harmful effects, except perhaps causing upset stomach in some individuals.

“So it’s (VCO) low risk and the product is inexpensive. It’s available and there’s justifiable evidence that it might be effective so DOST agreed to fund clinical studies using VCO,” he said.

He also assured that clinical studies will use high-quality VCO. 

As one of the biggest exporters of VCO, he said positive results from the studies will greatly help Philippines.

Dayrit said he has also shared his research and the dosage protocol to scientists in other coconut-producing countries, as he hope to generate more studies on how VCO can help COVID-19 patients.