Medically reviewed by Michele Emery, DNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 4/17/2020
Search online for information about treating herpes, and alongside proven medications like valacyclovir, you’ll also find recommendations for a variety of natural products.
Many of these recommendations are accompanied by promises that natural alternatives provide bigger benefits for treating HSV-1 and HSV-2 — the two most common forms of the herpes virus — than medication.
For most of these miracle cures, the evidence is mixed; for others, there’s none at all.
A frequently recommended natural herpes treatment we see all the time is coconut oil. Proponents of coconut oil for herpes claim that it can both provide relief from the itching and redness of herpes lesions, and even potentially neuter the virus itself.
At first glance, it’s tempting to take these claims to heart. However, like almost all natural treatments for herpes, the evidence for coconut oil is mixed — at best.
In this guide, we’ll look at some of the claims made by websites that promote coconut oil for herpes treatment, as well as existing coconut oil antiviral studies and other scientific study data on the topic.
Coconut oil is an interesting substance. Until recently, it was an oil that most health-focused people avoided due to its high saturated fat content.
However, over the last decade, it’s been marketed as the ultimate health food and cure-all, capable of treating almost any condition, from diminished brain function (thanks to the oil’s rich medium-chain triglycerides [MCT] content) to the symptoms of eczema.
Search online for information about the health benefits of coconut oil and you’ll discover all types of websites and blogs alleging that it can improve your digestion, boost your immune system and improve your cognitive function — essentially making it both a physical and mental performance enhancer.
Coconut oil websites also claim that the oil, which is high in saturated fat, is good for cardiovascular health.
But one thing you’ll also notice on a lot of these low-budget blogs and holistic health sites is that most of these claims aren’t backed up by scientific evidence. In fact, some have been outright disproven by the scientific community.
And beyond its cure-all status for digestion and physical performance, it’s also being marketed as a potential treatment for infectious viruses like HSV-1 and HSV-2.
Some of the most common claims made in support of coconut oil for treating herpes are that it’s a powerful antiviral agent. Some coconut oil and natural health websites claim that coconut oil is equally as effective at treating herpes as topical creams and antiviral medications.
Other claims to support coconut oil’s status as a natural herpes treatment include the idea that it’s a great substance for reducing inflammation, that it can promote skin health and that it can prevent the development of yeast and candida infections.
As with most natural alternatives to antiviral medication, the scientific evidence surrounding coconut oil for herpes is mixed. Below, we’ve compiled some of the existing study data on coconut oil to show which of the claims about its benefits are supported by evidence, and which aren’t.
Coconut oil contains several fatty acids that may potentially have some level of antiviral and antibacterial activity. The most important of these is lauric acid, which is converted into a new substance called monolaurin when it’s digested by the body.
Lauric acid accounts for about half of the fatty acids found in coconut oil. It’s a medium-chain fatty acid that’s claimed to offer a variety of health benefits, from boosting metabolism to killing harmful bacteria. It’s also promoted as an antiviral.
Interestingly, there is some scientific evidence to back up this claim. A study of lauric acid and infectious vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) showed that lauric acid inhibits the maturation of the virus, in effect, stopping its growth through antiviral activity.
Another study of fatty acids and their effects on bacterial infections noted that lauric acid and other fatty acids have been linked to inactivation of HSV-1, although the findings referenced in the study unfortunately aren’t published.
HSV-1, the most widespread form of the herpes virus, is also listed in a review of data on the substance as one of the virus types inactivated by monolaurin, although no data is provided regarding its effectiveness as a treatment for the virus.
On the whole, there are some positive coconut oil antiviral studies out there that support the claim that it may be used to treat HSV-1 and HSV-2, largely due to its lauric acid content. Lauric acid produced antiviral effects in several studies, showing that, in some cases, it’s capable of inhibiting viral activity.
However, this does not mean that coconut oil is a miracle treatment for herpes, or that it can be compared to antiviral medications.
The existing studies show that certain ingredients in coconut oil are promising as potential treatments for some viruses, but there’s nothing conclusive yet (especially regarding HSV-1 and HSV-2 infections), and more clinical research must be conducted.
Both cold sores and genital herpes lesions can be itchy and uncomfortable, particularly during the early days of an outbreak.
In addition to being promoted as an antiviral treatment, coconut oil and coconut oil products are also frequently touted as treatments for itching, painful skin.
Just like with coconut oil’s purported antiviral benefits, the scientific evidence to back up these claims is mixed.
One study of coconut oil’s skin benefits found that coconut oil is effective and safe if used as a skin moisturizer, offering improved hydration and skin surface lipid levels when applied directly to the skin. Again, however, this doesn’t mean it can treat herpes-specific skin issues.
Some people swear still that coconut oil on cold sore scabs is the answer.
On the whole, scientific studies do show that coconut oil does have potential benefits for your skin, and that it can also act as a mild natural analgesic, meaning it could potentially reduce the pain and discomfort you experience during a cold sore or herpes outbreak.
Putting coconut oil on cold sore scabs may possibly help them heal faster and at least partially relieve some of the pain and inflammation often experienced during an outbreak.
However, it’s very important to keep in mind that the research on the topic is very thin, and the available research, far as we can see, rarely deals with herpes-specific treatment options.
There’s no scientific evidence that coconut oil is specifically effective at reducing pain and discomfort from HSV-1 or HSV-2. There’s also no evidence that it’s more effective, safer or less likely to cause side effects than other substances used to treat herpes.
Coconut oil is a promising natural health product with a lengthy list of purported benefits, some of which are supported by scientific evidence. However, as with other natural treatments, not all of the claims made about coconut oil are backed up by scientific proof.
Does this mean that coconut oil isn’t effective against herpes? Well, not necessarily.
There just aren't enough coconut oil antiviral studies and other research available right now to give a conclusive “yes” or “no” on its antiviral benefits.
As such, it’s best not to use coconut oil as your sole treatment if you experience outbreaks of cold sores or genital herpes.
Can coconut oil on cold sore scabs help? Maybe. But we know it most likely won't hurt you. While it might have some potential benefits, you simply won't see better results from coconut oil than you would from a proven antiviral medication.
Instead, the best approach to treating HSV-1 or HSV-2 outbreaks is to talk to your healthcare provider about using a proven, FDA-approved medication like valacyclovir, which is backed up by a long list of scientific studies, reviews and efficacy trials. However, we do have a list of supplements and vitamins for herpes outbreaks and a list of essential oils for cold sores if you are still not yet ready for prescription medication.
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