MCT Oil : The kind of fats you should be eating

MCT oil athletes

Last Updated December 20th, 2021

MCT Oil: What’s all the buzz about?

Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT) is a dietary supplement and is usually used along with medications for treating food absorption disorders including diarrhea, steatorrhea (fat indigestion), celiac disease, liver disease, people suffering from digestion problems due to gastrectomy (partial removal of stomach and intestine) and also short bowel syndrome.

Medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) are triglycerides composed of glycerol and three fatty acids.  MCT usually has 2 or 3 of the fatty acid chains belong to medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA).  MCTs get their name because of the length of their chemical structure.  Fatty acids are made up of strings of connected carbon and hydrogen.  Fats are categorized by the number of carbons they have namely short-chain fats and long-chain fats.

How is MCT oil produced?

MCT oil athletesThe main production of MCTs is by processing coconut and palm kernel oils in the laboratory.  MCTs are a fat source for patients, who cannot tolerate other types of fats.  MCT plays a role in lowering weight, and decreasing metabolic syndrome, abdominal obesity and inflammation.  MCT containing diet improves high temperature induced exercise performance impairment.

MCT regulates the expression of protein levels of genes involved in mitochondrial biogenesis and metabolism.  MCTs have numerous health benefits, ranging from improved cognitive function to better weight management.

One of the main sources of MCT is coconut oil.   Coconut oil has around 62% to 65% of the fatty acids, which are MCTs, but more concentrated MCT oil is also available in the market these days.  Certain saturated fats, especially MCTs and other healthy fats found in products like coconut oil are easier to digest than long-chain triglycerides (LCTs) and have more benefits related to heart health, obesity prevention, and brain health.

Other than coconut oil, small amounts of MCTs can also be found in other foods with saturated fats, including butter, cheese, palm oil, whole milk, and full-fat yogurt.

What are the medical applications of MCT oil?

MCTs are also used to help in chyluria (a medical condition involving the presence of chyle in the urine stream, which results in urine appearing milky white), chylothorax (lymph formed in the digestive system called chyle accumulating in the pleural cavity due to either disruption or obstruction of the thoracic duct).

It is also used in the treatment of gallbladder disease, AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer disease, and seizures in children.  Athletes use MCT as nutritional support during training, which helps to increase exercise performance, decrease body fat, increase the lean muscle mass, and help in weight loss.  They are also used for diabetes and a rare disease called Waldmann disease, which is characterized by enlargement of the lymph vessels supplying the lamina propria of the small intestine.

Sometimes MCTs are used as a source of fat in total parenteral nutrition (TPN).  TPN is a process in which all food is delivered intravenously, which is necessary for people whose gastrointestinal tract is no longer working.  It also helps prevent muscle breakdown in critically ill patients.

MCT oil is helpful to patients, who are unable to digest or absorb conventional fats.  MCTs are more readily hydrolyzed and absorbed than long-chain fats.  MCTs are absorbed directly into the portal circulation and do not require bile salts for emulsification (digestion).

The numerous ways MCT oil can be used…

Promote weight loss

MCT oil increases the release of two hormones that promote the feeling of fullness in the body namely peptide YY and leptin.  Consumption of MCT oil helps in lowering the rise in triglycerides and glucose.  It has about 10% fewer calories than long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), which are found in foods such as olive oil, nuts, and avocados, which helps in reduction of body weight and waist circumference, which in turn can cure obesity.

MCT oil benefitsThe human body can use MCT oil as an instant source of energy, which minimizes the storage of fat in the body.  MCTs can be converted into ketones, which are produced from the breakdown of fat when carbohydrate intake is low when following a ketogenic diet, which is very low in carbohydrates yet high in fat, and consuming MCT oil can help you stay in the fat-burning state known as ketosis.

MCT oil can help optimize the growth of good bacteria and support the gut lining, which could also help people lose weight.  Research has proven that people, who consumed two tablespoons of MCT oil as part of their breakfast ended up eating less food for lunch.

An instant source of energy

MCT oil is rapidly absorbed by the body, as it contains more carbons in their fatty acid chains and acts an instant source of energy and also fuels the brain to maintain normal functioning.  Due to their shorter chain length, MCTs travel straight from the gut to the liver and do not require bile to break down like longer-chain fats. 

In the liver, the fats are broken down to be either used as energy or stored as body fat.  Since MCTs can easily enter cells without being broken down, they are used as an immediate source of energy.  These days it has been a trend among people to follow a ketogenic diet (low carbohydrate diet).

MCTs can also be converted into ketones in the liver.  These ketones can pass through the blood-brain barrier, making them a convenient source of energy for your brain cells.

Reduce lactate build-up

During exercise, rising lactate levels can negatively impact exercise performance and MCTs may help reduce lactate buildup.  Athletes have highly benefited from consuming MCT oil and research has proved that athletes, who consumed around 6 grams of MCTs with food before cycling, had lower lactate levels and found it easier to exercise.

Furthermore, it was found that taking MCT oil before exercise may help people use more fat instead of carbohydrates for energy.  Another research also proved that taking MCT oil does not negatively affect exercise performance.

Management of Epilepsy, Alzheimer disease, and Autism

MCT oil benefits brainScientists have found that fasting increases ketone production and this may reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures and since MTCs can be converted into ketones, they may be beneficial in managing epilepsy.  One study has shown that MCT capric acid improved seizure control better than a widespread anti-epileptic drug. 

Alzheimer’s disease impairs the brain’s ability to use sugar.  An MCT ketogenic diet offers an alternative energy source called ketones, which allows brain cells to survive better.  It also blocks a receptor in the brain that causes memory loss.  Evidence suggests that 20–70 grams of supplemental MCTs, which include capric acid can improve the symptoms of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer disease. 

Studies have also proved that a single dose of MCTs improved short-term cognition with people suffering from Alzheimer disease.   MCT oil may also help children with autism.  Addition of MCTs to a ketogenic and gluten-free diet can substantially improve autism behaviors.  Since autism is a spectrum condition, which is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior, it can affect people in different ways. 

Fights Yeast and Bacterial Growth

MCT oil also has antimicrobial and antifungal effects.  Coconut oil, which is a rich source of MCTs, has shown the ability to reduce the growth of Candida albicans opportunistic pathogenic yeast that is a common member of the human gut flora) by 25%, which is a common yeast that can cause thrush and various skin infections.

Studies have shown that coconut oil reduced the growth of disease-causing bacteria called Clostridium difficile, which is a bacterium that causes diarrhea and more serious intestinal conditions such as colitis.  Coconut oil’s ability to reduce yeast and bacterial growth is due to the presence of capric and lauric acid in MCTs.

Reduces risk factors for heart disease

Factors affecting heart disease include obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.  MCT oil has been shown to support weight and fat loss. This may, in turn, help reduce the risk of heart disease.  Studies have proven that MCT oil combined with phytosterols (plant sterols) and flaxseed oil for 29 days can help reduce cholesterol by 12.5%.

It was also found that there was a reduction in LDL (low-density lipoproteins) or bad cholesterol when the MCT oil mixture was added to the diet.  MCT oil also has the ability to increase the production of heart-protective HDL (high-density lipoproteins) or good cholesterol.  It has the ability to even significantly reduce C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammatory marker that increases the risk of heart disease.

Help control blood sugar levels

MCT oil may also have benefits for those with diabetes Many people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese, which makes diabetes harder to manage. However, MCTs have been shown to reduce fat storage and increase fat burning.

One study related to people with diabetes found that those who consumed MCT oil daily had significant reductions in body weight, waist circumference, and insulin resistance. It was also found that people, who took insulin due to diabetes, needed 30% less sugar to maintain normal blood sugar levels when they consumed MCTs but had no effect on reducing fasting blood sugars.

In a nutshell, MCT can help you in …

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Specifically, reduce stored body fat
  • Have more energy
  • A better level of cognition
  • Experience better digestion
  • Balance hormone levels
  • Fight bacterial infection, yeast, and viruses
  • Absorb fat-soluble nutrients from various foods

Side effects of MCT oil you should be aware of

MCT oil benefits heartMCTs are safe for most people when taken orally or administered intravenously.  Consumption of MCT oil directly can have some side effects such as diarrhea, vomiting, irritability, nausea, stomach discomfort, intestinal gas, essential fatty acid deficiency, and other side effects, but consuming it with food reduces the side effects.

Some of the potential side effects of MCT oil are they can cause certain chemicals called ketones to build up in the body, which can be a problem for people with diabetes, and the best way is to have an appropriate amount of MCTs, who have diabetes.

MCTs may also cause some liver problems because MCTs are processed primarily by the liver and high doses of MCT can lead to fat build up in the liver, which can cause serious problems in people with liver disease.  It is advisable to avoid MCTs with people suffering from cirrhosis or other liver problems.

MCT oil: How to consume it safely?

MCT oil could have many benefits and very few risks.  It contains fatty acids that can promote weight loss by reducing body fat, potentially improving the gut environment.

They are also a great source of energy, fight bacterial growth, help protect our heart, and aid in the management of diabetes, Alzheimer disease, epilepsy, and autism.  Risks may include increased hunger and possible fat accumulation in the liver. However, appropriate consumption under medical supervision leads to a healthy lifestyle and negative side effects are likely minimal. 

Finally, it can be concluded that MCT oil can be used in a convenient way to obtain maximum advantage of all the health benefits MCTs have to offer.



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