ELAH – The Magical Molecule

ELAH – The Magical Molecule

Ethyl Lauroyl Arginate Hydrochloride (ELAH) is amazing.  ELAH is a food preservative and disinfectant that has been gaining popularity in recent years due to its ability to inactivate viruses and bacteria.

It was first synthesized in 1976 and Spanish pharma company LAMIRSA patented the process in 1995.  Its first commercial use was as a food preservative in the late 1990s and then in a global brand mouthwash in the early 2000’s. It became the first mouthwash approved as a treatment for gingivitis (rather than merely a prevention) due to its effectiveness. The lead researcher won the 2005 Heroes of Chemistry award for the discovery. The same team that developed that product took what they learned in their application and developed the unique formula of BioSURE PRO Protective Nasal Spray.

We’re going to explain scientifically how ELAH works, and then break down what this means, to help you understand why it is so effective. Knowledge is power after all!

ELAH is a cationic surfactant that is effective against a broad range of microorganisms, including gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, enveloped viruses, and fungi.

Cationic simply means ELAH carries a positive charge.  This is important because respiratory viruses are ‘enveloped viruses’ whose outer membrane is negatively charged.[i]  It means the ELAH molecules are attracted to the viruses.

Surfactants break down surface tension and fats (think of how soap works). Once attached to the virus or bacteria, ELAH’s lauric acid tail (more on that later) breaks down the lipid (fatty) coating, which destabilizes and inactivates the microbes.[ii] 

Gram-positive and Gram-negative are two major classes of bacteria and ELAH works a little differently against each. 

Enveloped viruses include almost all respiratory viruses and these are the viruses against which we tested BioSURE PRO.  Coronaviruses, H1N1 influenza, Human Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and rotoviruses all showed 99.9% or greater reductions when exposed to ELAH in laboratory testing. 

With those definitions out of the way, let’s explore how Ethyl Lauroyl Arginate HCl works to kill bacteria and inactivate viruses.

It is helpful to understand the structure of ELAH. It is made up of three components: lauric acid, L-arginine, and ethanol.

The lauric acid provides a long, hydrophobic (water-repellent) tail, while L-arginine provides the hydrophilic (water soluble) head. The ethanol acts as a solvent and helps ELAH mix efficiently into the nasal spray solution. This unique structure allows ELAH to have a dual mechanism of action against microorganisms.

One of the ways ELAH works against bacteria is by disrupting the outer membrane of microorganisms. The lauric acid tail of ELAH penetrates the fatty lipid bilayer of the bacteria’s cell membrane, causing the membrane to become destabilized and break down. This destabilization leads to the death of the microorganism. [iii]

This mechanism is particularly effective against gram-positive bacteria, as they have a thick peptidoglycan layer – made of sugars and amino acids -that is easily disrupted by ELAH.

ELAH works against gram-negative bacteria in a slightly different way, by binding to the microorganism’s surface. The hydrophilic head of ELAH contains a positive charge, which allows it to bind to the negatively charged cell surface of these bacteria. This disrupts the function of membrane-bound enzymes, leading to the death of the microorganism.

Imagine ELAH like a child with a safety pin in a room full of balloons, popping them one by one and laughing the entire time.

ELAH has also been proven to be very effective against “enveloped” viruses, which have a fatty coating (a “lipid bilayer”) that is similar to the cell membrane of bacteria. ELAH’s lauric acid tail pokes holes in that outer layer, destabilizing all of the viral components and inactivating the virus. As noted above, in testing, ELAH reduced viral loads to below the level of detection (greater than 99.999%).

As it acts entirely outside of the cells in our mucous membranes, it is effectively a nasal soap, breaking down the fatty outer layers of microbes, rendering them harmless.  Not all viruses and bacteria are susceptible to ELAH’s wily ways, but those that are happen to be the types of microbes that cause most infections and illnesses. 

ELAH doesn’t interact with our cells, so therefore BioSURE PRO is not a drug.  It is a topical nasal cleanser that gives a very real layer of protection against airborne viruses. Because of its unique structure and mode of action, ELAH truly is a wondrous molecule for keeping us healthy. 


[i] This has been reported in several scientific studies, including "Lipid composition and fluidity of the SARS-CoV-2 viral envelope" by Andersen et al. (2020) and "Characteristics of and Public Health Responses to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Outbreak in China" by Wu et al. (2020).

[ii] “The transfer of individual surfactant molecules into the viral envelope destabilizes the bilayer.” The SARS-CoV2 envelope differs from host cells, exposes procoagulant lipids, and is disrupted in vivo by oral rinses. https://www.jlr.org/article/S0022-2275(22)00041-4/fulltext#secsectitle0140

[iii] “Listerine Advanced (23 % ethanol) with ethyl lauroyl arginate [ELAH], a cationic surfactant, eradicated the virus completely, giving >5-log10 reduction in viral titres.” Brief Report: The Virucidal Efficacy of Oral Rinse Components Against SARS-CoV-2 In Vitro - https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.11.13.381079v1.full.pdf

Back to blog