What is Lauric Acid?
Lauric acid is a medium chain saturated fatty acid, because it consists of 12 carbon atoms. It is abundant in dairy products, animal fats and tropical oils. The highest concentrations of lauric acid are found in coconut oil, which despite being rich in saturated fats (like all tropical oils), has a modest atherogenic power (unlike palmitic acid and palm oil).
In the industrial sector it is used for the production of soaps and detergents, while in the health sector it is known for its antibacterial properties. Once ingested, in fact, lauric acid is converted into monolaurin, a monoglyceride with antiviral, antimicrobial, antiprotozoal and antifungal properties. Coconut oil, lauric acid or the single monolaurin, are therefore widely used in deodorising preparations or in cosmetics that require the presence of natural substances with antiseptic effect.
As regards the lauric acid content of foods, coconut oil and palm kernel oil (palm seed oil, not to be confused with palm oil, extracted from the pulp) are the most generous sources, with an average next content at 50%. Lower concentrations are found in whole milk (2-3%) and dairy products, while in meat, lauric is present in negligible quantities (0.1%), as well as in commonly used oils, where it is practically absent.
Lauric acid as an antiseptic
Being a non-essential fatty acid, let us remember how the body has the ability to synthesize it from other fatty acids, at the level of the endoplasmic reticulum of the cells. However, due to these antiseptic properties, lauric acid is considered by some authors to be a conditionally essential fatty acid, since under certain pathophysiological conditions, such as an infection, it may not be synthesized at sufficient speed. For this reason, given also the scarce presence in food, lauric acid is now marketed as a supplement; for commercial purposes they are decanted with excessive enthusiasm anti-infective properties against candida, HIV, Tinea Pedis (Athlete's Foot) and herpes simplex, enhanced by the absence of side effects. These claims attributed to lauric acid are however still to be confirmed.