Coconuts are versatile fruits with a wealth of practical, culinary and medicinal benefits. Coconut oil, a saturated fat, boosts immune function and protects against a variety of pathogens. Eighty percent of the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil are antimicrobial against bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa, according to health editor Cynthia Holzapfel, author of the book "Coconut Oil: For Health and Beauty."
Medium-Chain Fatty Acids
Medium-chain fatty acids found abundantly in coconut oil provide considerable antifungal effects, according to naturopath Bruce Fife, author of the book "The Coconut Oil Miracle." Caprylic acid has been used successfully in combination with certain antifungal herbs as an alternative to conventional antifungal drugs in the treatment of yeast infections and recurrent skin infections such as athlete's foot and ringworm. Caprylic acid can be combined with coconut oil or vitamin E and applied to affected areas. This coconut oil derivative has a high safety profile. Caprylic acid can be taken internally as a supplement to control intestinal yeast overgrowth, a condition that may make you more susceptible to other fungal infections, such as athlete's foot.
Broad Spectrum Antifungal
A variety of Candida species responded well to treatment with coconut oil in a study published in the June 2007 issue of the "Journal of Medicinal Food." Researchers concluded that coconut oil shows promise as a treatment for drug-resistant fungal infections. In the study, coconut oil compared favorably to the antifungal drug fluconazole against some fungal species.
Lauric and Capric Acids
Lauric acid and capric acid, two other medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil, are also effective at controlling fungal infections. Lauric acid works by disrupting the fungal cell membrane, resulting in a disorganized and shriveled cell, according to nutritionist Cheri Chalbom, author of the book "The Coconut Diet: The Secret Ingredient That Helps You Lose Weight While You Eat Your Favorite Foods." Chalbom notes that coconuts grow in warm tropical areas where fungi abound, yet fungal infections are rare in people in those places who eat coconuts and coconut oil as a staple in their diets.
A combination of coconut oil with tea tree oil is helpful for controlling athlete's foot and other fungal rashes, according to Dr. Mary Enig, author of the book "Eat Fat, Lose Fat: Lose Weight and Feel Great with Three Delicious, Science-Based Coconut Diets." A foot bath with coconut vinegar and tea tree oil has been used with success against athlete's foot. Also, massage your feet before bed using coconut oil along with a few drops of lavender, rosemary, cyprus or tagetes essential oils, which have antiseptic properties.