You’re probably aware of the hype surrounding MCT oil. From fat-burning to curing Alzheimer’s disease, people swear by its health benefits, and many athletes are opting to include this supplement in their routines.
MCT oil contains medium-chain triglycerides. These fatty acids are naturally found in coconut or palm kernel oil. MCT oil as a supplement is made in a lab combining these two natural oils, and as a result, it usually contains a more complete source of MCTs.
What Are MCTs?
So what are exactly triglycerides, and why should we care if they’re medium or long-chained? For all intents and purposes, triglycerides are fat. They’re the stuff we either burn as energy or store around our hips.
Foods such as avocado, cheese, or meat contain long-chain triglycerides - LCTs. These are fatty acids that take a while to be digested.
On the other hand, MCTs contain 6-12 carbon atoms. They are much easier to digest, and the body absorbs them quickly. They go straight to the liver, where they can be used as an instant source of energy or turn into ketones.
Meaning, they’re not stored in the body, don’t cause weight gain, and can be a great energy boost.
Due to these properties, many athletes and Keto diet enthusiasts are starting to use MCT oil as a go-to supplement. MCT oil has no particular flavor, which means it can be mixed well with smoothies, shakes, and as you probably heard, it’s a must-have in bulletproof coffee recipes.
On the surface, this all sounds incredible and it makes sense to add MCTs to your diet. But, the addition of these fats is not what it might seem. Here's what you need to know before you decide to include this oil into your diet.
What is MCT Oil Made From?
Like we said, MCT oil is usually made by combining MCTs from coconut and palm kernel oil. That’s because over 50% of fat in coconut oil comes from MCTs. In contrast, in dairy sources such as cow’s milk, MCTs comprise 15% of the total fat count.
There are four medium-chain fatty acids: caproic, caprylic, capric, and lauric acid. Most of the benefits of MCT oil are prescribed to the first three, the so-called “capra fatty acids”.
In natural sources, the composition of these acids in MCTs varies. For instance, coconut oil mostly contains lauric acid, while dairy sources tend to be higher in capra fatty acids. What’s more, these natural sources also contain some LCTs.
That’s why lab-made MCT oil is usually made by combining caprylic and capric acids and contains a much higher amount of MCTs than found naturally. This chemical process excludes lauric acid and LCTs, making MCT oil a highly concentrated source of pure MCTs.
However, MCT oils used in studies are high-quality medical-grade oils that are generally not available to the public. Store-bought brands have different ratios of fatty acids, so always make sure to read the labels.
Benefits of MCT OIl: Separating Truth from Hype
The jury is still out on MCT oil benefits, with mixed results from different studies. Here, we’ll discuss the merit of some MCT oil’s proclaimed health benefits.
One study compared the effects MCT and LCT have on food intake and appetite-regulating hormones. It was found that MCTs can boost the release of peptide YY and leptin, hormones that promote the feeling of fullness.
However, this study had a relatively small sample size, and it found that MCT could lower food intake, but only in the hour following consumption.
More studies confirm the effect MCT oil has on fat-burning and energy expenditure. Compared to LCTs, MCT oil intake was found to promote greater loss of adipose tissue and increased calorie-burning.
Another study found that low-to-moderate intake of MCT (15-30 g per day) could be a factor in enhancing daily energy expenditure, thus boosting the metabolism and fat-burning.
That said, the changes in fat loss aren't likely enough to register a big difference on the scale. So, while it might assist the fat loss process, creating a caloric deficit -- whether by exercise or reducing how much you eat -- is still necessary for fat loss. Simply adding MCT's will not make the weight come off.
Mental Performance and Healthy
Our brains use glucose as the primary source of energy. With Alzheimer’s disease, brain glucose metabolism is reduced, leading to cognitive decline.
Similarly to have ketones replace glucose as energy fuel in ketogenic diets, researchers wanted to examine whether nutritional ketosis could improve AD.
They found that a ketogenic diet with MCT supplements had a beneficial effect on mild-to-moderate AD cases. The research is still ongoing, but MCT could become a treatment option.
As MCT oil increases ketones, it could prove to be a valuable supplement for those suffering from these conditions. However, as each case is different in severity, circumstances, and presentation, the extent to which MCT oil could benefit you or your loved ones is unclear.
The best option is consulting with your doctor, who could prescribe the exact combination of diet and MCT supplements that could be useful to you.
Inflammation and Gut Flora
This study suggests that MCT oil helps prevent bacterial and yeast overgrowth in the gut. It could also have a positive effect on decreasing inflammation by reducing the C-reactive protein values, an important marker for heart disease.
Risks or Side Effects of MCT Oil
In general, MCT oil is perfectly safe for human consumption. However, there are some reports that too much MCT oil can cause vomiting or nausea.
In general, it’s recommended not to consume more than 4-7 tablespoons of MCT oil a day. The advice is to take a dose with every meal, instead of taking it all at once.
If you’re taking MCT oil to aid in weight loss, don’t forget that one tablespoon on average has 120 calories. Fat intake that comes from MCT oil should be a part of your daily fat intake, not an added source.
MCT oil has some positive effect on weight loss, but certainly not if you overdo it and go over your daily fat recommendations and calories.
MCT oil can increase the production of HDL, the so-called good cholesterol. It can also lower the bad cholesterol, but if you have any issues with cholesterol, it’s vital that you consult your doctor before deciding on an MCT oil supplement.
The Verdict on MCT Oil
Our bodies are complicated, and the connections and processes that happen inside are still very much subject to research.
While some studies did find that MCT oil can have benefits on weight loss, keep in mind that taking only an MCT oil supplement without changing your diet or exercise habits is unlikely to lead to weight loss. MCT oil might be healthy, but it is certainly not a magic pill that will make you slimmer in two weeks.
Medium-chain triglycerides have been proven to be more beneficial than LCTs, so a good way to go would be replacing some LCTs in your diet with MCT sources or supplements.
If you wish to take more than the recommended dose of MCT oil, be sure to consult with a health professional first.