The much-reported benefits of coconut oil have spurred interest in its components and especially the prospects of the contained medium-chain triglycerides delivering health benefits.
The interest in these fatty acids has grown considerably in the past decade. It has gained popularity among bodybuilders, athletes and the common man alike.
Triglyceride is the scientific word for fat. It has two functions namely, provides energy or gets stored as fat in the body. It has three fatty acids and a glycerine molecule.
What is MCT Oil?
MCTs are medium-chain triglycerides that are fats found in certain oils. MCTs occur naturally only in human breast milk, full-fat cow/goat milk, coconut, and palm oil.
Many manufacturers offer MCT oils that are a blend of medium-chain triglycerides obtained from coconut oil and palm oil in a lab setting. Long-chain fatty acids have 13 to 21 carbons and the short-chain fatty acids have less than 6 carbon atoms.
MCTs have 6 to 12 atoms. As they are comparatively smaller than long-chain triglycerides (LCT) they are easily absorbed by the body. They get to the liver straightaway and are converted into energy or ketones.
The brain uses ketones as another source of energy. Its primary source of fuel is glucose. The 4 MCTs are caproic acid, caprylic acid, capric acid, and lauric acid. They all have similar names and shapes, but slightly different properties and uses.
How Does MCT Oil Work?
The shorter chains of carbon molecules in MCTs make absorption easier and they are quickly and efficiently used as fuel by the brain and body. On the other hand, long-chain triglycerides take time to metabolize and get converted to fats that are stored. A long-chain triglyceride has 10 to 12 carbon molecules.
Saturated fats are mostly avoided by people who are health-conscious. However, studies have shown that certain fats do not deserve a negative reputation. The fats of pure MCT oil is one of them. MCT oil does not get converted and stored as fat but is rapidly used up as energy.
Other fats that are present in olive oil, butter, beef, and coconut get accumulated as stored fats in the body. MCTs are considered fuel that burns fat and boosts energy.
The 9 Proven Health Benefits of MCT Oil
Medium-chain triglycerides are easily absorbed by the body and converted into energy. Therefore the likelihood of it being stored as fat is clearly absent. Due to its swift metabolism and ready energy, the benefits are many and varied.
As it does not get stored as fat, a diet that substitutes MCTs in place of other fatty foods has become appealing for fitness enthusiasts, sports professionals, and the health-conscious group of people. It also aids in the recovery process while burning fat during strenuous exercises.
We will take a look at some of the evidence that the scientific community has discovered over the past several years on the health provisions that these MCT oils deliver.
MCT Oil and Weight Loss
A meta-analysis in early 2015 on the effects of MCT was conducted to examine its effects on weight loss and body composition (1). In particular, the influence of C8:0 (caprylic) and C10:0 (capric) acids with long-chain triglycerides in healthy adults was checked. Trials from different records by looking at databases on the internet.
Discover, PubMed, New Zealand Science, Web of Knowledge and Cochrane Central were the scientific databases that were looked into for the meta-analysis. Bias assessments were conducted and mean differences were analyzed using certain variance methods. The difference in content and quality of the trials was also measured.
A total of 13 trails were chosen and the results showed that MCTs, when compared to LCTs, were more pronounced in its properties of decreasing body weight, waist and hip circumference, total body fat, total fat under the skin, and organ fat.
No difference in blood lipid levels was identified. There were variances in dosage, duration of the trial and energy intake. The whole exercise was concluded with the consensus that MCTs have the potential to effectively cause a modest decrease in body weight and composition without affecting lipid quantity.
Further studies are necessary mainly to know the dosage amounts of MCTs needed for weight management and body composition.
Summary: Several studies have shown the potential health benefits of these fatty acids. Standardization of the amounts that bring about the positive result has still to be investigated.
MCT Oil and Adipose Tissue Reduction
An earlier trial was conducted with the objective of determining the effects of LCTs and MCTs on energy expenditure, body composition and substrate (underlying layer) oxidation and ad libitum (eating when hungry and not according to a schedule) food intake in healthy obese men (2).
The trial included 24 healthy overweight men with a BMI of 25 and 31kg/m who consumed diets enriched with MCTs or LCTs for 28 days. Before the commencement of the study and after 4 weeks, energy expenditure and body composition were measured. The experiment resulted in the substantial decrease of the upper body adipose tissue due to the use of functional oil as compared with olive oil.
It was also noted that a significant reduction of the volume of whole-body subcutaneous adipose tissue took place. Energy expenditure was greater with the functional oil (oils that have functions apart from adding nutrition) on day 2 and day 28.
Fat oxidation with functional oil compared to olive oil was noteworthy on day 2. MCT oil may be effective in the loss of adipose tissue because of high energy expenditure and fat oxidation caused by it.
Summary: MCTs may be influential in the decrease of adipose tissue and body weight. It may cause a decrease in the waist and hip circumference, body weight, total body fat, total fat under the skin, and organ fat.
MCT Oil And Diabetes
The food that we consume gets converted into blood glucose which is the main source of energy for our body. When the level of blood glucose or blood sugar increases diabetes occurs. A hormone called insulin produced by the pancreas aids in getting glucose into the cells.
Diabetes occurs when the pancreas is no longer producing this insulin or the body is unable to use it. As a result, the blood glucose rises. Type 1, Type 2 and gestational are the three types of diabetes. Each one requires a different treatment.
A pilot study that was undertaken in 2007 tested the use of MCT on moderately overweight subjects who had type 2 diabetes. Two groups of 20 participants each consumed either 18 grams of MCT or corn oil as part of the daily food intake (3). The test was for a period of 90 days. Bodyweight, serum samples, and waist circumference were measured at day 0, 45, and 90.
The participants of the MCT group showed a reduction in body weight and waist circumference and a decline in the homeostasis model (a model used in quantifying beta cells function and insulin resistance) of insulin resistance. An increase in serum C-peptide concentration was also noted.
There were no appreciable changes in variables noted in the LCT group. The study concluded that there is an association between MCT and its positive effects on moderate overweight people.
Summary: MCT oils may help in lowering blood sugar and reducing insulin resistance. More research is needed.
MCT Oil and Brain Disease Treatment
Studies have shown that medium-chain triglycerides have the potential to manage certain brain diseases. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that causes slow deterioration in thinking and memory.
The amount of glucose that gets used up by the brain as a fuel reduces Alzheimer’s. The 2016 investigation was to determine if cognitive decline can be deferred if brain energy is set right early in the onset of brain impairment (4).
Research has demonstrated that increasing brain ketones through modest nutritional ketosis (when the body uses fat and ketones as its energy fuel) to 70 grams per day of MCT containing 8 to 10 carbon fatty acids is a safe ketogenic diet for this condition.
Summary: The effects of MCT fatty acids on Alzheimer’s disease recommends future investigations and tests on this health benefit.
MCTs May Help Reduce Autism Symptoms
An earlier test was conducted on the role of MCT and ketogenic diet on autistic children between the ages of 4 and 10 years. The diet was followed through for 6 months (5). Of the 30 children 7 could not tolerate the diet, 5 of them discontinued after 1 to 2 months.
Out of 30 children, 18 showed improvement in accordance with the ‘Childhood Autism Rating Scale’. 2 children showed significant improvement.
Though the results are among the first few, they are encouraging. Scientists and experts should be motivated to take on more trails and investigations.
Summary: MCT indicated a positive role in reducing the symptoms of autism in children.
MCTs May Lower Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a fatty substance present in all the cells in the body. It is needed for the production of hormones and compounds that digest foods. However, a rise in cholesterol can cause heart conditions wherein plaque build-up occurs in the arteries.
An experiment was conducted to determine the effects of MCT oil and flaxseed oil used as a functional oil along with phytosterols (helps in reducing LDL) on the size of LDL particles and plasma lipid concentrations (6).
24 healthy obese men were given controlled diets for 2 periods of 29 days. The diet contained 40% energy acquired from fat. 75% of the fat ingested was from the functional oil or olive oil. Measurements of body composition and blood samples were taken before and at the end of each 29-day period.
Total cholesterol decreased by 12.5% when the functional oil was consumed and reduced by 4.7% when olive oil was ingested. LDL also reduced by 13.9% due to functional oil whereas olive oil showed no similar reduction. The trial concluded that a diet with functional oil has a better lipid profile compared to diets with olive oil.
Summary: Functional oils such as MCT oils may help in reducing the risk of heart diseases by better control of cholesterol.
MCT Oil May Benefit Recreational Athletes
A recreational athlete is one who is physically active however does not train for competition, therefore he or she does not exhibit the same level of endurance and strength as a competitive athlete.
MCT oils are known to disintegrate more rapidly and get readily metabolized than LCTs. The effect of 2-week consumption of MCT was examined in recreational athletes who undertook moderate to intense exercises. 6 grams of MCT or LCT were given to the athletes for 14 days who took up cycle ergometer (an apparatus that measures the energy spent during an exercise) for 14 days.
They were instructed to perform at 60% peak oxygen O(2) for a duration of 40 minutes and then up to 80% peak VO(2) (maximum oxygen consumed) until they were exhausted from the intense training. Blood lactate (when the intensity of exercise increases lactate gets produced through muscular metabolism) due to intense exercising was measured with the rating of perceived exertion (RPE).
The MCT test showed that the duration of intense exercise up to 80% was longer compared to the LCT test (7). Blood lactate concentration and RPE were lower among those who had taken the MCT supplemental diet.
Fat burning was higher and carb oxidation was lower during the whole exercise among participants in the MCT group. These observations showed that consuming MCT foods increases the use of fatty acids for energy and subdues the utilization of carbs for energy.
Summary: Short-term use of foods containing little amounts of MCT reduces blood lactate during exercise. Time duration gets extended as compared to the results of consuming LCTs. It utilizes fatty acids for energy purposes.
MCT And Satiety
The objective of a study that was undertaken in 2017 was to compare the effects of MCT oil with coconut oil on food consumption and satiety levels (8). After overnight fast volunteers were given a smoothie breakfast that contained 205kcal of either MCT oil, vegetable oil or coconut oil. The tests were conducted for 3 days.
There was no noteworthy difference in energy between the 3 oils. However, those who took MCT oil showed reduced food consumption compared to the other 2 oils. Food intake among those who took the vegetable oil was higher compared to the MCT and coconut oils consumers. The group that ingested the MCT breakfast showed satiety levels for three hours.
Summary: The satiety level of MCT is much higher compared to other oils. Food intake also gets reduced on consuming a diet that has MCT oil.
MCT Oil And The Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet and is more or less similar to the Atkins diet. The metabolic state of the body caused by the low carb intake is called ketosis. It also includes moderate amounts of proteins.
This diet approach may help in weight management and lessen blood sugar levels in the body. There are some side effects to it, like the keto breath that is fruit-smelling. It could also leave a metallic taste in the mouth.
For anyone undertaking a ketogenic diet, MCT oil is a boon. The user does not have to take a complete keto diet to get the best results of ketones obtained from the MCTs.
MCT oil can be added to bulletproof coffee, a popular keto drink. MCTs deliver sufficient energy for those who take up low-carb and high-fat diets. Athletes benefit from the additional energy supply during intense workouts.
Summary: MCTs are a great addition to keto diets as these oils are an easy way to meet the high-fat needs of the diet and offer quick energy release. It can be used in making bulletproof coffee.
The Dosage and Side Effects of MCT Oil
For most people, MCT oils do not pose any safety concerns. There has been no report of any serious reaction to the use of this diet food. Minor side effects such as an upset stomach, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea have been reported.
As the tolerance levels vary between people the dosage plays an important role in the beginning stages. In the early phase, it is better to take only one teaspoon of MCT oil. After a few days, it can be slowly increased to one tablespoon. This will aid in steering clear of the minor side effects.
No standardization of the amount of MCT oils used for prospective health benefits is available. Most of the recommendations are 1 to 3 tablespoons per day. No cause of concern has been noted on its reaction with other medicines.
People suffering from type 1 diabetes should abstain from the use of MCT products due to the production of ketones. The concern arises from the possibility of the occurrence of ketoacidosis, a life-threatening condition. Diabetes that is controlled does not cause serious health problems. More studies are needed to understand the use of MCT by diabetics.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Who Should Use MCTs?
MCTs are for the young adult and the old. Metabolism slows down with age and so does mental health. People are prone to degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s as they age. MCTs will also sustain their depleted resources of energy.
People who desire to control weight, body fat and those who want to embark on a ketogenic diet will find MCTs supplementation beneficial.
Is It Safe To Consume MCTs?
Yes, it is safe to consume MCTs. MCT has been considered safe (GRAS – Generally Recognized As Safe) by the US Food and Drug Administration. A toxicological review found that MCTs do not have the potency to be carcinogenic or mutagenic (9).
From the mid 19th century MCTs have been used in treatments for premature babies. It is a vital component in infant formulated foods. It is also used in the treatment process of malnutrition and malabsorption.
When Will I Experience The Benefits Of MCTs?
As MCTs get metabolized immediately on being consumed the ketone production of energy is instantaneous. It provides fuel to the brain and energy to the body. If used as a weight management component, the effects will vary between individuals.
Are MCTs Stimulants Like Caffeine, Could They Cause Addiction?
MCTs do not affect the nervous system while bringing about alertness with the fast energy supply. Caffeine works with the central nervous system and causes withdrawal symptoms when it is not used. There has been no case of withdrawal symptoms attributed to MCTs.
Is Coconut A Good Source Of MCTs?
Virgin coconut oil has 15% MCTs that are made up of C8:0 (caprylic acid) and capric (C10:0). Lauric acid and LCTs make up for the rest. MCT oil is 100% of C8 and C10 which are the vital parts that make it effective. A minimum of 6 to 7 tablespoons of virgin coconut oil is needed to get one tablespoon of MCT oil.
Is There Any Difference Between The MCT Of Coconut Oil And Palm Kernel Oil?
Coconut oil and palm kernel oil are high sources of MCT. Palm kernel oil is obtained from the kernel of red palm fruits while coconut oil is procured from the copra (white meat) of coconut. The properties of both oils are more or less similar and the MCTs from them deliver the same health benefits.
What Is The Best Time To Take MCTs?
It is good to have it in the morning to improve brain function and increase alertness. It can be taken with or after meals at any time of the day. For a good supply of energy mix your MCT oil with coffee or tea in the morning. Consuming it before a workout session will give you that extra energy to push through exercises. By mixing it with foods or drizzling it over salad you can get sufficient amounts of healthy fats and raise the absorption level of nutrients in your body.
Is There Any Difference Between MCT Oil And MCT Powder?
They both are the same. MCT powder is manufactured for the convenience of the user to mix it in certain beverages. MCT oil can be added to meals, salads or taken alone as 15 grams of oil. MCT powder can be used in baking and hot or cold beverages. The concentrated MCT serves about 75% of C8 and C10 fatty acids in about 10 grams of MCT in each serving.
The Final Note
Medium-chain triglycerides are an important source of energy. When consumed it provides immediate fuel (ketones) for the brain and acts as an alternative source of energy during intensive training. It aids in lowering the levels of LDL cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Trials and research have proved that MCT oils impact body weight and composition.
It has become a crucial component in supplements for weight management. It supports the treatment of certain degenerative brain diseases among the elderly. A study showed it can even affect a positive outcome in children (aged between 4 to 7 years) who are autistic. More research is necessary for standardization. There are no reports of adverse side effects to the use of MCT oil. The oil can be added to foods and beverages or taken alone.
It has several scientific studies to its credit in weight management and in reducing the symptoms of certain ailments. Continuous and sustained research will help us understand its full characteristics as an important nutrient and curing capabilities. The natural sources of MCTs are milk, butter, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil.