MCT oil and MCT oil powder are becoming increasingly popular supplements that have been associated with several unique health benefits. MCT is especially recommended as a staple in many weight loss diets such as the keto diet and has been linked with many health benefits. The surge of interest has raised many questions regarding the use and benefits of MCTs.
In this article you will find answers to some basic questions about MCTs, learn the difference between MCT oil and MCT powder, find out more about the role MCTs play in a keto diet, and recognize 5 proven benefits of MCT oil backed by science.
Before going on to describe what MCTs are, let us look at what MCT stands for.
MCT is an acronym for Medium Chain Triglycerides, a type of fat found in food.
To understand what these are, here is a short chemistry lesson. Fats are made up of fatty acids, which in turn are made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Triglycerides, the most common kind of fatty acids present in foods and animals, are three fatty acids attached to a glycerol.
Because fatty acids come in different sizes, they are classified as short chain, medium chain or long chain fatty acids based on the length of their hydrocarbon chain. Short chain fatty acids have a chain of less than 6 carbons and long chain fatty acids have a chain of more than 12 carbons. The in-between fatty acids with a chain of 6 to 12 carbons are the middle chain fatty acids. When three medium chain fatty acids are attached to glycerol they are called medium chain triglycerides, commonly referred to as MCTs.(1)
Unlike other kinds of fatty acids, MCTs are unique because they do not need to go through a complex digestive process to become available for use by the body. Instead, they are simply absorbed as such into the bloodstream from the gut and carried straight to the liver, where they are used as a source of energy or converted into ketone bodies. (2) This property of MCTs makes them an important component in diets such as the paleo or keto diet.
One of the most effective ways that MCT oil works to help you lose weight is by making you feel full. Studies show that participants felt fuller and satiated for a longer time after taking MCT oil as compared to long chain fats and coconut oil. The decreased appetite and slower gastric emptying resulted in a decreasing their total calorie intake, indicating that MCTs may help in weight loss. (4,5,6)
The benefit of taking MCT for weight loss is supported by analysis of thirteen clinical trials, which found that MCT intake decreased body weight, waist circumference and hip circumference when compared to intake of long chain triglycerides. (7)
Carbohydrates are the main source of fuel used by the body when you are on a normal diet, with glucose, the digested form of carbohydrates, providing energy. However, if you are on the keto diet, you are eating a diet high in fat and protein but low in carbohydrates. This means you have a limited amount of glucose available as source of energy.
As you continue to restrict your carbohydrate intake, your body is forced to use stored body fat for energy. The process of burning body fat, called ketosis, produces ketones, which become a source of energy. This is what causes you to lose weight when you are on a keto diet.
But it takes time for your body to adjust to the changes brought about by the keto diet such as the keto flu, low energy and brain fog. However, taking MCT oil powder or MCT oil can help ease you into the keto diet. This is because, as mentioned before, MCTs are easily converted into ketone bodies. An increase in ketone levels helps maintain energy levels as you transition into the keto diet. Another advantage of adding MCTs to the keto diet is that the brain, which normally uses glucose as a source of energy, starts using ketones as an alternate energy source. (2,8)
While glucose is the main source of energy used by the brain, uptake of glucose by people suffering from Alzheimer's disease is impaired. The brain can, however, use ketone bodies as an alternate of energy and ketone uptake by patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease was found to similar to that of healthy controls. (9)
A recent study reported that cognition scores improved in elderly nursing home residents who were given 6 grams of MCTs supplements for 3 months. (10)
A pilot study on 14 patients with post-concussion syndrome found that a ketogenic diet supplemented with MCT oil for 2 months significantly improved symptoms of concussion. Based on their results, authors of the study suggest more research on using a ketogenic diet with MCT oil supplementation could be helpful in treating concussion. (11)
If you are looking to boosting your exercise routine, MCT oil powder maybe able to help.
A study found that MCT intake significantly reduced blood lactate levels and rate of perceived exertion in recreational athletes during moderate and high intensity exercise. Time to reach exhaustion was also longer in the group that took MCTs compared to those who were on long chain triglycerides (LCTs). The authors suggest that carbohydrate breakdown for energy decreased because more fatty acids were available from MCTs and used to fuel exercise. (12)
According to another study, supplementing diets of elderly subjects with MCTs, amino acids rich in leucine and vitamin D may improve their muscle strength. (13)
Intake of MCT oil may play a role in diabetes management. A study on overweight subjects with type 2 diabetes found that MCT oil intake over a period of 90 days improved insulin resistance and lowered serum cholesterol levels in addition to reducing body weight and waist circumference. An interesting finding was that the changes were linked with lowered energy intake in those taking MCTs. (14)
Another study found that patients with type 2 diabetes on an MCT-rich diet for 14 days had altered plasma lipidome, which may benefit cardiac function and fasting insulin levels though more research is needed. (15) In moderate amounts, MCTs may reduce fasting lipid levels, glucose levels and improve insulin sensitivity. (16)
The best two natural sources of MCTs are coconut oil and palm oil, both of which are considered as healthy fats. More than 50% of total fats present in these oils are as MCTs while small amounts of MCTs are also found in milk and dairy products. (3)
MCTs in the form of MCT oil and MCT oil powder are also available as dietary supplements. MCT oil is made from coconut oil or palm oil and mostly contains two MCTs - caprylic acid, which has 8 carbons and capric acid, which has 10 carbons. MCT oil is a colorless and odorless oil that can be used in salad dressings, drizzled on vegetables or added to soups and sauces. MCT oils, however, have a low smoke point and should not be used for cooking.
MCT powder is a convenient form of MCT oil that is made by mixing the oil with a filler such as acacia gum, tapioca fiber, maltodextrin or starches and spray drying into a powder form with hot air. When looking for powdered MCT supplements, it is important to make sure that they are made from natural sources and contain acacia fiber rather than a starch base or other additives so as not to increase your intake of carbohydrates, especially if you are on the keto diet. Also, the acacia fiber in MCT oil powder can be used as a prebiotic by the gut bacteria.
The choice to use MCT oil powder or liquid MCT oil is purely personal. MCT powder has the advantage that it can be easily added to you morning coffee or tea as a creamer, whipped into smoothies and is convenient to carry if you are going out.
Some people who experience gastrointestinal distress after using MCT oil may benefit from using MCT powder as it is better tolerated by the gut and may result in fewer symptoms. This means that you can take a greater quantity of MCT powder without experiencing any side effects associated with MCT oil. It is, however, recommended that you start with small amounts of MCT and gradually increase quantity as you take your ketogenic diet to the next level and increase ketone production to lose body weight.
Now that you know more about MCTs and how they can benefit your heath, you might want to try them out. MCT oil or MCT oil powder is a great way of including MCTs to your diet, especially if you are on a low carb keto diet. The thing to remember is to choose a high-quality MCT oil or MCT oil powder and start slowly with small serving sizes. Then gradually increase intake, so that your body can use them efficiently.