Background Virgin coconut oil (VCO), a cold processed form of coconut oil, is traditionally consumed in Asian countries owing to its nutritional and medicinal properties. The aim of this study was to investigate whether the health benefits of VCO involve alterations in immune responses that are regulated by intracellular signaling molecules in the spleens of rats. Methods Young male Wistar rats were fed with three doses of VCO in diet for 30 days. At the end of the treatment period, spleens were isolated and in vitro effects on immune responses (Concanavalin A [Con A]-induced lymphoproliferation and cytokine production), and direct effects of VCO treatment on intracellular signaling molecules and antioxidant status were examined. Serum was collected to measure glucose, lipid levels, and leptin. Results VCO supplementation in diet enhanced Con A-induced splenocyte proliferation and Th1 cytokine production while it suppressed the proinflammatory cytokine production. VCO increased the expression of mechanistic target of rapamycin (p-mTOR), sirtuin1 (SIRT1), liver kinase B1 (p-LKB1) p-ERK, and p-CREB in spleen. Similarly, VCO increased the activities of antioxidant enzymes while it suppressed lipid peroxidation in the spleen. VCO diet had hypolipidemic effects on the rats: an increase in high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) levels while lowering triacylglycerol (TAG) levels. Conclusion The health benefits of VCO may be mediated through enhanced Th1 immunity through the upregulation of survival signaling pathways and inhibition of free radical generation in the spleen besides its capacity to induce hypolipidemia.
Keywords: SIRT1; antioxidant enzymes; cytokines; leptin; p-mTOR.