THURSDAY, Oct. 30, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Virgin coconut oil, added to antibiotic therapy, may help relieve the symptoms of community-acquired pneumonia in kids faster than antibiotic therapy alone, a new study finds.
Children who received coconut oil therapy along with antibiotics had fewer crackles (a wheezing sound in the lungs), a shorter time with an elevated respiratory rate and fever, better oxygen saturation in the blood, and shorter hospital stays, according to the study.
"Earlier normalization of respiratory rate and resolution of crackles could also mean possible earlier discharge," said the study's lead author, Dr. Gilda Sapphire Erguiza, a pediatric pulmonologist at the Philippine Children's Medical Center in Quezon City.
The study's findings were due to be presented Wednesday at the American College of Chest Physicians meeting in Philadelphia.
Community-acquired pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that is contracted outside a hospital setting. It is a serious infection in children and affects as many as 34 to 40 youngsters per 1,000 children in Europe and North America, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). Lower respiratory infections are one of the leading causes of childhood mortality in developing countries, according to the AAFP.
The current study included 40 children between the ages of 3 months and 5 years old. All had community-acquired pneumonia and were being treated intravenously with the antibiotic ampicillin.
Half of the group was randomized to also receive oral virgin coconut oil in a daily dose of 2 milliliters per every kilogram of weight. The oil was given for three days in a row.
The researchers found that the respiratory rate normalized in 32.6 hours for the virgin coconut oil group versus 48.2 hours for the control group, according to the study. After three days, patients in the control group were more likely to still have crackles than those in the coconut oil group -- 60 percent of the controls still had crackles compared to 25 percent of the coconut oil group.
Those in the coconut oil group also had fevers for a shorter time, had normal oxygen saturation faster, and had shorter hospital stays, but Erguiza said these findings did not reach statistical significance.
How might the coconut oil work to ease pneumonia? Erguiza hypothesized that it may boost ampicillin's effectiveness because it contains lauric acid, which is known to have antimicrobial properties, she said.
One expert said the findings aren't definitive, however.
"This is a very interesting but small study. The jury's still out as to whether there's a real benefit here," said Dr. Daniel Rauch, director of the pediatric hospitalist program at New York University Langone Medical Center.
Rauch said he wouldn't discourage a parent from trying this treatment, as long as they were still using antibiotics, but he said it's important that children aren't forced to take virgin coconut oil, or any other oil for that matter. The concern, he said, is that if a child is forced to ingest something like coconut oil, and doesn't really don't want to, he or she may end up choking on it and aspirating the oil into the lungs, which is very dangerous.
In an effort to prevent some pneumonias from occurring in the first place, the Pneumococcal Awareness Council of Experts initiated a "Global Call to Action" on Oct. 24 to urge greater access to the pneumococcal vaccine in poor countries. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the pneumococcal vaccine has been introduced in 26 countries worldwide, though none are low-income countries.
To learn more about pneumonia, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.