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Tuesday, May 20, 2003

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Can coconut drive SARS to nuts?

Vinson Kurian


WITH conventional attempts at controlling the spread of the SARS virus having come to a naught, at least in interior China from where deaths due to the flu-like affliction are still being reported, efforts are now on to tap Mother Nature for devising a mechanism that can shore up the body defences for fighting the scourge.

It is now being suggested that the monolaurin content in the much-scorned coconut oil can be utilised for developing a drug for SARS that would be free from side effects unlike the combination of steroids and the antiviral drug Ribavirin currently being used to treat the affliction. Monolaurin is a monoglyceride containing lauric acid and glycerol. It is known to trigger anti-viral activity against several viruses that reside in cell membranes. In vitro research has shown that monolaurin attacks the lipid membrane of influenza viruses also, disintegrating their colony in the process.

Till such time as an effective treatment based on monolaurin is developed, the tremendous curative and restorative properties of tender coconut water, fresh coconut milk and coconut oil (as a dietary medium) can be tapped to build up the immune system, according to Mr P. Rethinam, currently Executive Director with the Jakarta-based Asia and Pacific Coconut Community (APCC) and one of the ardent advocates of this `gift of a fruit' from the `tree of life'.

The SARS virus belongs to the family of the coronavirus that is known to mutate rapidly. There are differences of opinion on the use of steroids and Ribavirin for treating SARS. A recent suggestion for best treatment was a drug cocktail consisting Ribavirin, steroids, Cystain C and interferon alpha. Cystain C is a natural protease inhibitor present in serum and body secretions that selectively blocks coronavirus replication. Interferon alpha had showed efficacy against coronavirus in studies conducted in the US in the 1980s.

"Despite all this, the reality is that the virus is still killing people in China. It is time we made bold to think innovatively to come up with new solutions," says Mr Rethinam. In this context, he said coconut water, with its multifarious properties, offers itself as a possible option for building up body defences.

Coconut water is an excellent electrolyte, aids quick absorption of drugs, eliminates mineral poisoning, acts as a blood plasma substitute, does not produce heat nor destroys red blood cells. It absorbs easily into the body, is an excellent tonic, cures malnutrition and acts as a diuretic when used in tandem with coconut milk and coconut oil.

These coconut-based products boast lauric acid and medium chained fatty acid (MCFA) content of up to 48 per cent. Lauric acid and MCFA have antiviral, antifungal, antiprotozoal and antibacterial effects. These can be effectively utilised to create immunity to fight SARS virus until a proper cure is found, says Mr Rethinam.

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