Coconut Oil for Herpes: Is it Effective?
Search online for information about treating herpes, and alongside proven medications such as 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, the evidence is mixed; for others, there’s none at all. One of the most frequently recommended natural herpes treatments is coconut oil. Proponents of coconut oil for herpes claim that it can provide relief from the itching and redness of herpes lesions, and even potentially neuter the virus itself.
And like most natural alternatives to pharmaceutical medication, it’s tempting to take these claims at face value—after all, most people would rather choose a natural treatment over a drug if that treatment can provide the same benefits.
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 for Herpes: The Claims
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 to the symptoms of eczema.
Search online for information about the health benefits of coconut oil and you’ll discover 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 extremely high in saturated fat, is good for cardiovascular health. Most of these claims are not backed up by scientific evidence. In fact, some of these claims have been disproven by studies and reviews of scientific data.
In short, coconut oil has grown into one of today’s top wellness fad products. 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.
Coconut Oil for Herpes: The Scientific Data
As with most natural alternatives to antiviral medication, the scientific evidence surrounding coconut oil for herpes is mixed. Below, we’ve compiled the existing study data on coconut oil to show which of the claims about its benefits are supported by evidence, and which aren’t.
Is Coconut Oil Antiviral?
Coconut oil contains several fatty acids that could 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 marketed as offering a variety of health benefits, from boosting metabolism to killing harmful bacteria. It’s also promoted as having antiviral benefits.
Interestingly, there’s some scientific evidence to back up this claim. A study of lauric acid and infectious vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) shows 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 notes 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 as one of the virus types inactivated by monolaurin in a review of data on the substance, 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.
Does Coconut Oil Help With Itchy Herpes Lesions?
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 from 2010 shows that virgin coconut oil has some level of analgesic effects, meaning that it can potentially numb the pain and discomfort from a cold sore or genital herpes sore if it’s applied topically.
However, the study itself does not mention herpes and instead uses ear edema in mice in order to assess anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. In short, it’s an interesting observation and a great point in coconut oil’s favor, but not proof that it’s effective for treating herpes sores.
Another 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 that coconut oil on cold sore scabs is the answer. However, we're not so sure.
On the whole, scientific studies 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 it heal faster and relieve the pain and inflammation often experienced during an outbreak. However, the evidence is still far from conclusive.
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.
So, What's Our Verdict?
Coconut oil is a promising natural health product with a lengthy list of 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? Not necessarily. Only recently has coconut oil attracted the attention of scientists, meaning 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 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 doctor about using a proven, FDA approved medication like valacyclovir, which is backed up by a long list of scientific studies, reviews and efficacy trials.