Maternal intake of dietary virgin coconut oil modifies essential fatty acids and causes low body weight and spiky fur in mice

BMC Complement Altern Med. 2017 Jan 28;17(1):79. doi: 10.1186/s12906-017-1600-z.


Background: Coconut oil is commonly used as herbal medicine worldwide. There is limited information regarding its effects on the developing embryo and infant growth.

Methods: We investigated the effect of virgin coconut oil post-natally and until 6 weeks old in mice (age of maturity). Females were fed with either standard, virgin olive oil or virgin coconut oil diets 1 month prior to copulation, during gestation and continued until weaning of pups. Subsequently, groups of pups borne of the respective diets were continuously fed the same diet as its mother from weaning until 6 weeks old. Profiles of the standard and coconut oil diets were analysed by gas chromatography flame ionization detector (GCFID).

Results: Analysis of the mean of the total weight gained/ loss over 6 weeks revealed that in the first 3 weeks, pups whose mothers were fed virgin coconut oil and virgin olive oil have a significantly lower body weight than that of standard diet pups. At 6 weeks of age, only virgin coconut oil fed pups exhibited significantly lower body weight. We report that virgin coconut oil modifies the fatty acid profiles of the standard diet by inducing high levels of medium chain fatty acids with low levels of essential fatty acids. Furthermore, pups borne by females fed with virgin coconut oil developed spiky fur.

Conclusion: Our study has demonstrated that virgin coconut oil could affect infant growth and appearance via maternal intake; we suggest the use of virgin coconut oil as herbal medicine to be treated with caution.

Keywords: Body weight; Coconut oil; Essential fatty acids; GCFID; Spiky fur.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Coconut Oil
  • Cocos / chemistry*
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated / adverse effects
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated / blood
  • Fatty Acids / analysis
  • Fatty Acids, Essential / blood*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Hair / drug effects*
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Mice, Inbred Strains
  • Nuts / chemistry
  • Plant Oils / adverse effects*
  • Plant Oils / chemistry
  • Pregnancy
  • Weight Gain / drug effects*


  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Essential
  • Plant Oils
  • Coconut Oil