In Vitro Anticancer Activity of Virgin Coconut Oil and its Fractions in Liver and Oral Cancer Cells

Anticancer Agents Med Chem. 2019;19(18):2223-2230. doi: 10.2174/1871520619666191021160752.


Background: Coconut oil is an edible oil obtained from fresh, mature coconut kernels. Few studies have reported the anticancer role of coconut oil. The fatty acid component of coconut oil directly targets the liver by portal circulation and as chylomicron via lymph. However, the anti-cancer activity of coconut oil against liver cancer cells and oral cancer cells is yet to be tested. The active component of coconut oil, that is responsible for the anticancer activity is not well understood. In this study, three different coconut oils, Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO), Processed Coconut Oil (PCO) and Fractionated Coconut Oil (FCO), were used.

Objective: Based on previous studies, it can be hypothesized that fatty acids in coconut oil may have anticancer potential and may trigger cell death in cancer cell lines.

Methods: Each cell line was treated with different concentrations of Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO), Processed Coconut Oil (PCO) and Fractionated Coconut Oil (FCO). The treated cells were assayed by MTT after 72 hr of incubation. The fatty acid composition of different coconut oils was analyzed by gas chromatography.

Result: Different concentrations of coconut oils were used to treat the cells. Interestingly, the anticancer efficacy of VCO, PCO and FCO was not uniform, rather the efficacy varied from cell line to cell line. Only 20% VCO showed significant anticancer activity in HepG2 cells in comparison to 80% PCO against the KB cell line. Remarkably, 20% of PCO and 5% of FCO showed potential growth inhibition in the KB cell line as compared to 80% PCO in HepG2 cells. Moreover, there was a difference in the efficacy of VCO, PCO and FCO, which might be due to their fatty acid composition. Comparing the anticancer efficacy of VCO, PCO and FCO in this study helped to predict which class of fatty acids and which fatty acid might be associated with the anticancer activity of VCO.

Conclusion: This study shows that VCO, PCO and FCO have anticancer efficacy and may be used for the treatment of cancer, especially liver and oral cancer.

Keywords: Virgin coconut oil; fatty acid; fractionated coconut oil; lauric acid; liver cancer; oral cancer..

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology*
  • Antioxidants / chemistry
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Coconut Oil / chemistry
  • Coconut Oil / pharmacology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Screening Assays, Antitumor
  • Hep G2 Cells
  • Humans
  • KB Cells
  • Liver Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Liver Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology
  • Molecular Structure
  • Mouth Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Mouth Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Mouth Neoplasms / pathology
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Antioxidants
  • Coconut Oil