Monolaurin – A Natural Immune Boosting Powerhouse

By: Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist

Monolaurin is a 12-carbon long fatty acid, derived from coconut oil but prepared into a mono-ester of lauric acid. Decades of research has demonstrated the germ-killing and disinfectant properties of this natural compound. It should be pointed out that monolaurin is a component of breast milk, part of Mother Nature’s immune support that is passed from mother to child and vital to the survival of the human race. Anything in breast milk must be very gentle on the baby, yet effective at boosting immunity. This helps you to understand the safety and non-toxicity of this simple fatty acid nutrient.  Well, if it is nothing but a fatty acid with no toxicity then how on earth does it help immunity?  After all, all the antibiotics in use by Western Medicine are essentially killing germs with toxic force. What trick does Mother Nature have up her sleeve?

Mapping the human genome was indeed a major breakthrough that has opened many doors to understanding how things work in your body. Scientists are now on to mapping the genomes of the contents of your digestive tract, the hundreds of trillions of foreign cells that have a huge bearing on your health. This is the frontier of medicine for the next 50 years that will eventually result in the development of non-toxic antibiotics and safe treatments for autoimmune diseases. In the mean time, many pieces of the puzzle are beginning to fit into place – information you can use to keep yourself and your family in better health.

This new science is reporting fascinating immunologic discoveries almost on daily basis. For example, in the October 31, 2008 issues of the journal Cell, scientists report that bacteria spores grow1 and spread by talking to dormant bacteria nearby, in essence motivating them to come join their cause (which is to infect your body). This turns harmless digestive contents into active combatants. The hostile bacteria release fragments from their cell membranes called muropeptides – a carbohydrate-based communication molecule that signals dormant “friends” to join the battle. The researchers believe this is a universal principle of bacterial infections. We already know that Candida albicans behaves this way. What tools do you have to keep this type of problem in check?

These findings mean that the balance of power residing in your digestive tract, as well as on the surfaces of your sinuses, lungs, and skin, has a profound influence on your immunity and health. If your baseline of health is too many bad gangs already active in your neighborhoods, as reflected by the nature of ongoing symptoms, then your immune system is already struggling to keep up with the challenges within your own cities. What happens if you get attacked by something truly hostile that you breathe in and swallow or eat and swallow? Obviously, the healthy terrain of your digestive tract determines your baseline of immune system competence, and your ability to directly fight a true challenge – such as a hostile flu virus which must first incubate in your digestive tract before spreading to some other area of your body.

And think about a baby just coming into the world who has no digestive competence or balance and no immune cells based on experience – how do they survive an infection if they get one? This helps you to understand the true power of monolaurin and other immune support components that are naturally found in breast milk.

Monolaurin, Gram Positive Bacteria, H. Pylori, and Candida

Research dating back 30 years first identified that the 12 carbon fatty acid2 of monolaurin was highly effective at combating gram positive bacteria and yeasts (like Candida albicans). The Candida killing ability of monolaurin3 has been established. The most research has been done on gram positive bacteria, as the compound can be used to reduce infections on poultry and help clean equipment involved in the production of food. And monolaurin is effective against many viruses. The nutrient has been in widespread use as an immune support dietary supplement for several decades.

Gram positive bacteria are those that contain a thick mesh cell wall lattice made of sugars and amino acids. Disrupting this mesh-like outer cell wall is the key to stopping them from spreading. The troubling bacteria in this category are in the families of Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, Corynebacterium, Listeria, Bacillus, and Clostridium.

Monolaurin has been found to incorporate itself into the cell membrane4 of gram positive bacteria and have the net effect of disturbing the integrity of its cell membrane, blocking replication and making it an easier enemy for your immune system to take care of.

In 1992 University of Minnesota researchers demonstrated an additional way that monolaurin helps, showing that it could reduce the toxicity5 of Staphylococcus gram positive bacteria. More recently, another gram positive bacteria, Bacillus anthracis, has been thrust into public attention by the threat of its use in bioterrorism. Like many bacteria, it’s severity of infection is based on how much toxin it can produce. In 2005 the University of Minnesota researchers this time demonstrated that monolaurin inhibited the genes that enabled anthrax6 to generate toxins. In 2006 research they showed the mechanism of reducing gram positive infection toxicity7 applied to many organisms, indicating that monolaurin is likely to help reduce the toxicity of any gram positive infection by making it less severe. This research also found that healthy cells were made stronger by monolaurin, also helping them combat the toxicity.

Monolaurin has demonstrated some ability to help regulate gram negative bacteria, one of which is the common intestinal inhabitant known as Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). If H. pylori starts getting out of balance and turns hostile, like a bad gang in the neighborhood, then a lot of stomach distress can follow. Researchers have shown that monolaurin has a direct and potent germ killing effect on H. pyloria8, regardless of stomach pH. The H. pyloria8 germ killing ability of monolaurin has been confirmed9 by a second group of researchers. Exactly how monolaurin is able to kill these gram negative bacteria has not been identified.

Research has shown that monolaurin is not effective against most gram negative bacteria like Salmonella or E. coli, which have a different kind of outer cell membrane than gram positive bacteria. In contrast to this general finding, one study of bacteria cultured from the skin10 of children found that monolaurin inhibited the growth of gram positive and gram negative bacteria.

It has been generally observed that no gram positive bacteria are resistant to monolaurin. However, a recent study demonstrated that various super strains11 of gram positive Vancomycin Resistant Enterococcus (VRE) have developed partial (up to 70%) resistance to monolaurin. VRE is especially problematic to those with weak immunity. It is unknown if monolaurin is effective or not against Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). A detailed analysis in the VRE study showed that the mutated enterococcus bacteria had learned to tighten their cell walls, making it more difficult for monolaurin to get a toehold (the same problem antibiotics were having). Monolaurin has been shown to reduce the toxicity of gram positive infections, and has been shown to help Vancomycin12 work better against these super strains – meaning that monolaurin used along with appropriate medical care may produce a superior result.

Monolaurin and Viruses

Monolaurin is one of the most popular nutrients to assist in combating various viruses. It is believed to work by interacting with the lipids and phospholipids that form the envelope of the virus, causing it to weaken or disintegrate.  Research suggests13 that monolaurin exerts some degree of immune support for the following viruses:
Human immunodeficiency virus HIV-1, HIV+
• Measles virus
• Herpes simplex virus-1
• Herpes simplex virus-2
• Herpes viridae (all)
• Human lymphotropic viruses (type 1)
• Vesicular stomatitis virus
• Visna virus
• Cytomegalovirus
• Epstein-Barr virus
• Influenza virus
• Pneumonovirus
• Sarcoma virus
• Syncytial virus

One study showed that while monolaurin was effective against Cytomegalovirus14 it was not effective against rhinoviruses, the cause of the common cold.  There are many anecdotal reports of monolaurin helping combat the flu. 

Many of the types of viruses monolaurin helps are those that can be chronic low grade infections that deplete energy on a regular basis and flare up when you are stressed or down. If you have ever had a bad bug and never really got your energy back then monolaurin may help your immune system clean up the problem – even years later. Many find it useful for recurring mouth sores that are herpes-based problems.

The new discovery that many lipid coated viruses can live in your stored fat and disturb your metabolism, promoting obesity, opens the door for the use of monolaurin to assist weight management – though no specific studies have been done on this topic.

In summary, monolaurin is a nutritional fatty acid that is non toxic to humans and a friendly nutrient for human cell health. In contrast, it can be a knock out punch for gram positive bacteria and a number of difficult viral problems. It can also help to keep normal inhabitants of your digestive tract, such as H. Pylori and Candida albicans, in a better state of healthy balance.

The information given in this article is not intended to be used in place of medical care for any bacterial, viral, or yeast infection, especially a serious one. It is simply provided for its educational value, helping you to understand how a nutritional fatty acid helps your immune system do its job. Always get medical care if you are sick with an infection.

Referenced Studies:
  1. ^ Bacterial Spreading Mechanism Identified    
  2. ^ Monolaurin Kills Candida and Gram Positive Bacteria  Lipids.  Kabara JJ, Vrable R.
  3. ^ Monolaurin and Caprylic Acid Kill Candida  Antimicrob Agents Chemother.   Bergsson G, Arnfinnsson J, Steingrímsson O , Thormar H.
  4. ^ Monolaurin Incorproates Into Gram Positive Bacteria Cell Membranes  Appl Environ Microbiol.  Tokarskyy O, Marshall DL.
  5. ^ Monolaurin Reduces Gram Positive Bacteria Toxicity  Antimicrob Agents Chemother.   Schlievert PM, Deringer JR, Kim MH, Projan SJ, Novick RP.
  6. ^ Severity of Gram Positive Infection Reduced by Monolaurin  Antimicrob Agents Chemother.   Vetter SM, Schlievert PM.
  7. ^ Monolaurin Stops Toxicity of Many Gram Positive Bacteria  Biochemistry.   Peterson ML, Schlievert PM.
  8. ^ Monolaurin Effective Against H. Pylori  FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol.  Sun CQ, O’Connor CJ, Roberton AM.
  9. ^ Monolaurin Kills H. Pylori  Int J Antimicrob Agents.  Bergsson G, Steingrímsson O, Thormar H.
  10. ^ Monolaurin and Skin Infection   J Drugs Dermatol.   Carpo BG, Verallo-Rowell VM, Kabara J.
  11. ^ Monolaurin and Superstrain Infections  Appl Environ Microbiol.   Dufour M, Manson JM, Bremer PJ, Dufour JP, Cook GM, Simmonds RS.
  12. ^ Monolaurin May Reduce Vancomycin Resistance  J Bacteriol.  Ruzin A, Novick RP.
  13. ^ Monolaurin Provides Broad Immune Support  ALTERNATIVE & COMPLEMENTARY THERAPIES  Shari Lieberman, Mary G. Enig, Harry G. Preuss.
  14. ^ Monolaurin Effective Against Cytomegalovirus  J Med Microbiol.  Clarke NM, May JT.

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