Manipulation of host diet to reduce gastrointestinal colonization by the opportunistic pathogen Candida albicans

Kearney T.W. Gunsalus, Stephanie N. Tornberg-Belanger, Nirupa R. Matthan, Alice H. Lichtenstein, Carol A. Kumamoto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Candida albicans, the most common human fungal pathogen, can cause systemic infections with a mortality rate of ~40%. Infections arise from colonization of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, where C. albicans is part of the normal microflora. Reducing colonization in at-risk patients using antifungal drugs prevents C. albicans- associated mortalities. C. albicans provides a clinically relevant system for studying the relationship between diet and the microbiota as it relates to commensalism and pathogenicity. As a first step toward a dietary intervention to reduce C. albicans GI colonization, we investigated the impact of dietary lipids on murine colonization by C. albicans. Coconut oil and its constituent fatty acids have antifungal activity in vitro; we hypothesized that dietary coconut oil would reduce GI colonization by C. albicans. Colonization was lower in mice fed a coconut oil-rich diet than in mice fed diets rich in beef tallow or soybean oil. Switching beef tallow-fed mice to a coconut oil diet reduced preexisting colonization. Coconut oil reduced colonization even when the diet also contained beef tallow. Dietary coconut oil also altered the metabolic program of colonizing C. albicans cells. Long-chain fatty acids were less abundant in the cecal contents of coconut oil-fed mice than in the cecal contents of beef tallow-fed mice; the expression of genes involved in fatty acid utilization was lower in C. albicans from coconut oil-fed mice than in C. albicans from beef tallow-fed mice. Extrapolating to humans, these findings suggest that coconut oil could become the first dietary intervention to reduce C. albicans GI colonization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00020-15
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Candida
  • Candida albicans
  • Carbon metabolism
  • Commensal
  • Fatty acids
  • Host-pathogen interactions
  • Medium-chain fatty acids
  • Microbiome
  • Pathogenesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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