The UP Philippine General Hospital (PGH) is not only the country’s biggest and premiere tertiary referral hospital, it is also a University hospital, which is a critical facility for training and research in the service of the country’s public health sector. The PGH being designated by the Department of Health as a COVID-19 tertiary referral center in March 2020 was an affirmation of the government’s regard of the institution for fighting the pandemic.
Since then, PGH has been accepting the most serious cases of COVID-19 infections, while not sacrificing its mandate as a general hospital for the masses. It has shared experience and learnings in the clinical management of the disease, primarily through a weekly public webinar. With its proven expertise, the hospital has been allowed compassionate use of convalescent plasma treatment, which has shown promising results for treating serious COVID-19 infections.
UP-PGH is also now the venue of a pioneering study by the University of the Philippines, “Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) as Adjunctive Therapy for Hospitalized COVID-19 Patients”, in collaboration with the Philippine Coconut Authority and the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-PCHRD). The principal investigators are Marissa Alejandria, MD and Leslie Michelle Dalmacio, PhD, both of UP Manila.
The research aims to verify the safety and efficacy of a VCO dosage as a therapy to supplement the treatment of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, aged 18 years old and above, admitted at the PGH. Involving more than 75 participants, it began in October 2020. The patients are administered a certain dose of VCO orally.
Patients are observed as regards to primary outcomes such as: recovery or resolution of symptoms and duration of hospital stay; the duration by which symptoms progress to a point where patient may need intensive care unit admission or use of ventilation machine after onset of VCO administration; and, a series of blood test outcomes. The time it takes after the VCO administration until a negative result from an RT-PCR test is also monitored.
The PGH clinical trials come in the heels of earlier research pointing to VCO antimicrobial properties, benefits to the immune system, and relief of inflammatory conditions and other symptoms in mild and suspect COVID-19 cases.
Dr. Fabian Dayrit, Ateneo de Manila University chemistry professor and President of the Integrated Chemists of the Philippines, had led in-vitro research supported by DOST-PCHRD that showed compounds from VCO decrease coronavirus count by 60-90 percent when there is low viral load. The results were announced in October last year, with emphasis on VCO’s capability to boost the body’s immune response against COVID-19.
In an article by the Institute of Food Technologists, Dayrit explains that ingesting VCO results in the body’s production of the compounds he studied, monolaurin and lauric acid. “Together, monolaurin and lauric acid have the physicochemical property of being able to destroy the membrane of lipid-coated viruses,” according to the article.
“What is needed now are clinical trials to validate this and to recommend the amount of intake,” Dayrit says in the article.
Dayrit’s work, published through a paper co-authored with Dr. Mary Newport, was followed by a study by the DOST’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute using results of the tests done on 57 people at a community hospital and quarantine facility in Laguna.
A press release from the Institute says that five of 29 patients, probable and suspect COVID-19 cases, who were served meals with VCO manifested diminishing signs and symptoms as early as the second day. The patients who were served meals with VCO showed no COVID-19 related symptoms at Day 18, while symptoms persisted in some patients who were served the same meals without VCO until Day 23. The overall conclusion was VCO helped reduce the severity of symptoms of patients with mild COVID-19 and those suspected of infection.
Administering VCO to more serious patients in the hospital setting was the next logical step, according to experts. “Indeed, we look forward to the results of clinical trials on the various uses of VCO as an adjunct for the treatment of COVID-19,” Dr. Jaime C. Montoya, Executive Director of the PCHRD, said in a council’s press release.
UP has been at the forefront of VCO studies with the UP Los Baños National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology or BIOTECH being a part of the technical working group for the revision of the Philippine National Standard for VCO in 2006. This wasaccording to a status report in 2007 by National Scientist Bienvenido Juliano, of UP Los Baños. At about the same time, the UP Manila National Institutes of Health commissioned a literature review on public health and epidemiological research needs and issues regarding coconut oil and cardiovascular diseases.
A couple of years earlier, Dr. Conrado Dayrit of the UP Manila College of Medicine had “started testing the dietary oil on HIV-positive patients and this bold initiative drew the nation’s interest and woke up a sleeping industry on the healing potential of VCO,” said DOST’s Fortunato dela Peña in a 2007 National Academy of Science and Technology monograph.