Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter September 18, 2019

Virgin coconut oil supplementation in diet modulates immunity mediated through survival signaling pathways in rats

  • Lalgi Hima , Uday P Pratap , Sunil Karrunanithi , Kishore A. Ravichandran , Ramasamy Vasantharekha and Srinivasan ThyagaRajan EMAIL logo



Virgin coconut oil (VCO), a cold processed form of coconut oil, is traditionally consumed in Asian countries owing to its nutritional and medicinal properties. The aim of this study was to investigate whether the health benefits of VCO involve alterations in immune responses that are regulated by intracellular signaling molecules in the spleens of rats.


Young male Wistar rats were fed with three doses of VCO in diet for 30 days. At the end of the treatment period, spleens were isolated and in vitro effects on immune responses (Concanavalin A [Con A]-induced lymphoproliferation and cytokine production), and direct effects of VCO treatment on intracellular signaling molecules and antioxidant status were examined. Serum was collected to measure glucose, lipid levels, and leptin.


VCO supplementation in diet enhanced Con A-induced splenocyte proliferation and Th1 cytokine production while it suppressed the proinflammatory cytokine production. VCO increased the expression of mechanistic target of rapamycin (p-mTOR), sirtuin1 (SIRT1), liver kinase B1 (p-LKB1) p-ERK, and p-CREB in spleen. Similarly, VCO increased the activities of antioxidant enzymes while it suppressed lipid peroxidation in the spleen. VCO diet had hypolipidemic effects on the rats: an increase in high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) levels while lowering triacylglycerol (TAG) levels.


The health benefits of VCO may be mediated through enhanced Th1 immunity through the upregulation of survival signaling pathways and inhibition of free radical generation in the spleen besides its capacity to induce hypolipidemia.


Authors acknowledge Mr Kannan Thangamani, Mr Chockalingam Ramanathan, Mr Murali Mahadevan Hariharan, Ms Shaili Gour, Mr Mantavya Patel, Ms Supraja Prabakar, Ms Sahana Jayakumar, Ms Aanal Bhatt, Mr Nishant Bishnoi, and Mr Smit Mahajani for their technical assistance.

  1. Author Contributions: All the authors have accepted responsibility for the entire content of this submitted manuscript and approved submission.

  2. Research Funding: This research is funded by Coconut Development Board, Ministry of Agriculture, Govt. of India (F.No. 1345/2013 Tech). Lalgi Hima is the recipient of fellowship from the grant. The Coconut Development Board had no role in design, analysis or writing of this article.

  3. Employment or leadership: None declared.

  4. Honorarium: None declared.

  5. Competing interests: The funding organization played no role in the study design; in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the report for publication.


[1] Siriwardhana N, Kalupahana NS, Moustaid-Moussa N. Health benefits of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid. Adv Food Nutr Res 2012;65:211–22.10.1016/B978-0-12-416003-3.00013-5Search in Google Scholar PubMed

[2] Babu AS, Veluswamy SK, Arena R, Guazzi M, Lavie CJ. Virgin coconut oil and its potential cardioprotective effects. Postgrad Med 2014;126:76–83.10.3810/pgm.2014.11.2835Search in Google Scholar PubMed

[3] Fernando WM, Martins IJ, Goozee KG, Brennan CS, Jayasena V, Martins RN. The role of dietary coconut for the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease: potential mechanisms of action. Br J Nutr 2015;114:1–14.10.1017/S0007114515001452Search in Google Scholar PubMed

[4] Wallace TC. Health effects of coconut oil-a narrative review of current evidence. J Am Coll Nutr 2018;5:1–11.10.1080/07315724.2018.1497562Search in Google Scholar PubMed

[5] Patil U, Benjakul S. Coconut milk and coconut oil: their manufacture associated with protein functionality. J Food Sci 2018;83:2019–27.10.1111/1750-3841.14223Search in Google Scholar PubMed

[6] Intahphuak S, Khonsung P, Panthong A. Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antipyretic activities of virgin coconut oil. Pharm Biol 2010;48:151–7.10.3109/13880200903062614Search in Google Scholar PubMed

[7] Witcher KJ, Novick RP, Schlievert PM. Modulation of immune cell proliferation by glycerol monolaurate. Clin Diagn Lab Immunol 1996;3:10–3.10.1128/cdli.3.1.10-13.1996Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

[8] Dia VP, Garcia VV, Mabesa RC, Tecson-Mendoza EM. Comparative physicochemical characteristics of virgin coconut oil produced by different methods. Philippine Agric Sci 2005;88:462–75.Search in Google Scholar

[9] Marina M, Che Man YB, Nazimah SA, Amin I. Chemical properties of virgin coconut oil. J Am Oil Chem Soc 2009;86:301–7.10.1007/s11746-009-1351-1Search in Google Scholar

[10] Nevin KG, Rajamohan T. Virgin coconut oil supplemented diet increases the antioxidant status in rats. Food Chem 2006;99:260–6.10.1016/j.foodchem.2005.06.056Search in Google Scholar

[11] Saleiro D, Platanias LC. Intersection of mTOR and STAT signaling in immunity. Trends Immunol 2015;36:21–9.10.1016/ in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

[12] Preyat N, Leo O. Sirtuin deacylases: a molecular link between metabolism and immunity. J Leukoc Biol 2013;93:669–80.10.1189/jlb.1112557Search in Google Scholar

[13] Blagih J, Krawczyk CM, Jones RG. LKB1 and AMPK: central regulators of lymphocyte metabolism and function. Immunol Rev 2012;249:59–71.10.1111/j.1600-065X.2012.01157.xSearch in Google Scholar

[14] Gan RY, Li HB. Recent progress on liver kinase B1 (LKB1): expression, regulation, downstream signaling and cancer suppressive function. Int J Mol Sci 2014;15:16698–718.10.3390/ijms150916698Search in Google Scholar

[15] ThyagaRajan S, Madden KS, Kalvass JC, Dimitrova SS, Felten SY, Felten DL. L-deprenyl-induced increase in IL-2 and NK cell activity accompanies restoration of noradrenergic nerve fibers in the spleens of old F344 rats. J Neuroimmunol 1998;92:9–21.10.1016/S0165-5728(98)00039-3Search in Google Scholar

[16] Priyanka HP, Sharma U, Gopinath S, Sharma V, Hima L, ThyagaRajan S. Menstrual cycle and reproductive aging alters immune reactivity, NGF expression, antioxidant enzyme activities, and intracellular signaling pathways in the peripheral blood mononuclear cells of healthy women. Brain Behav Immun 2013;32:131–43.10.1016/j.bbi.2013.03.008Search in Google Scholar PubMed

[17] Priyanka HP, Krishnan HC, Singh RV, Hima L, Thyagarajan S. Estrogen modulates in vitro T cell responses in a concentration- and receptor-dependent manner: effectson intracellular molecular targets and antioxidant enzymes. Mol Immunol 2013;56:328–39.10.1016/j.molimm.2013.05.226Search in Google Scholar PubMed

[18] Arunima S, Rajamohan T. Effect of virgin coconut oil enriched diet on the antioxidant status and paraoxonase 1 activity in ameliorating the oxidative stress in rats – a comparative study. Food Funct 2013;4:1402–9.10.1039/c3fo60085hSearch in Google Scholar PubMed

[19] Winarsi H, Purwanto A. Virgin coconut oil (VCO) enriched with Zn as immunostimulator for vaginal candidiasis patient. Hayati J Biosci 2008;15:135–9.10.4308/hjb.15.4.135Search in Google Scholar

[20] Evangelista MT, Abad-Casintahan F, Lopez-Villafuerte L. The effect of topical virgin coconut oil on SCORAD index, transepidermal water loss, and skin capacitance in mild to moderate pediatric atopic dermatitis: a randomized, double-blind, clinical trial. Int J Dermatol 2014;53:100–8.10.1111/ijd.12339Search in Google Scholar PubMed

[21] Vysakh A, Ratheesh M, Rajmohanan TP, Pramod C, Premlal S, Girish Kumar B, et al. Polyphenolics isolated from virgin coconut oil inhibits adjuvant induced arthritis in rats through antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action. Int Immunopharmacol 2014;20:124–30.10.1016/j.intimp.2014.02.026Search in Google Scholar PubMed

[22] Zakaria ZA, Somchit MN, Mat Jais AM, Teh LK, Salleh MZ, Long K. In vivo antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory activities of dried and fermented processed virgin coconut oil. Med Princ Pract 2011;20:231–6.10.1159/000323756Search in Google Scholar PubMed

[23] Harris M, Hutchins A, Fryda L. The impact of virgin coconut oil and high-oleic safflower oil on body composition, lipids, and inflammatory markers in postmenopausal women. J Med Food 2017;20:345–51.10.1089/jmf.2016.0114Search in Google Scholar PubMed

[24] Powell JD, Pollizzi KN, Heikamp EB, Horton MR. Regulation of immune responses by mTOR. Annu Rev Immunol 2012;30:39–68.10.1146/annurev-immunol-020711-075024Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

[25] Stephenson LM, Park DS, Mora AL, Goenka S, Boothby M. Sequence motifs in IL-4R alpha mediating cell-cycle progression of primary lymphocytes. J Immunol 2005;175:5178–85.10.4049/jimmunol.175.8.5178Search in Google Scholar PubMed

[26] Lord GM, Matarese G, Howard JK, Baker RJ, Bloom SR, Lechler RI. Leptin modulates the T-cell immune response and reverses starvation-induced immunosuppression. Nature 1998;394:897–901.10.1038/29795Search in Google Scholar PubMed

[27] Procaccini C, De Rosa V, Galgani M, Carbone F, Cassano S, Greco D, et al. Leptin-induced mTOR activation defines a specific molecular and transcriptional signature controlling CD4+ effector T cell responses. J Immunol 2012;189:2941–53.10.4049/jimmunol.1200935Search in Google Scholar PubMed

[28] Kong S, McBurney MW, Fang D. Sirtuin 1 in immune regulation and autoimmunity. Immunol Cell Biol 2012;90:6–13.10.1038/icb.2011.102Search in Google Scholar PubMed

[29] Chang HC, Guarente L. SIRT1 and other sirtuins in metabolism. Trends Endocrinol Metab 2014;25:138–45.10.1016/j.tem.2013.12.001Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

[30] Arunima S, Rajamohan T. Influence of virgin coconut oil-enriched diet on the transcriptional regulation of fatty acid synthesis and oxidation in rats – a comparative study. Br J Nutr 2014;111:1782–90.10.1017/S000711451400004XSearch in Google Scholar PubMed

[31] Simmons GE Jr, Pruitt WM, Pruitt K. Diverse roles of SIRT1 in cancer biology and lipid metabolism. Int J Mol Sci 2015;16:950–65.10.3390/ijms16010950Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

[32] Famurewa AC, Ekeleme-Egedigwe CA, Nwali SC, Agbo NN, Obi JN, Ezechukwu GC. Dietary supplementation with virgin coconut oil improves lipid profile and hepatic antioxidant status and has potential benefits on cardiovascular risk indices in normal rats. J Diet Suppl 2018;15:330–42.10.1080/19390211.2017.1346031Search in Google Scholar PubMed

[33] Nevin KG, Rajamohan T. Beneficial effects of virgin coconut oil on lipid parameters and in vitro LDL oxidation. Clin Biochem 2004;37:830–5.10.1016/j.clinbiochem.2004.04.010Search in Google Scholar PubMed

[34] Liau KM, Lee YY, Chen CK, Rasool AH. An open-label pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of virgin coconut oil in reducing visceral adiposity. ISRN Pharmacol 2011;949686. DOI:10.5402/2011/949686.Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

[35] Arunima S, Rajamohan T. Virgin coconut oil improves hepatic lipid metabolism in rats–compared with copra oil, olive oil and sunflower oil. Indian J Exp Biol 2012;50:802–9.Search in Google Scholar

[36] Narayanankutty A, Mukesh RK, Ayoob SK, Ramavarma SK, Suseela IM, Manalil JJ, et al. Virgin coconut oil maintains redox status and improves glycemic conditions in high fructose fed rats. J Food Sci Technol 2016;53:895–901.10.1007/s13197-015-2040-8Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Received: 2019-04-23
Accepted: 2019-05-30
Published Online: 2019-09-18

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Downloaded on 26.2.2024 from
Scroll to top button