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Are you getting MCT oil benefits? If you don’t quite know what MCT oils are, you likely won’t know the answer to that question. So let’s start with a primer on MCTs, a naturally occurring source of dietary fats especially abundant in coconut oil. MCT stands for medium-chain triglycerides, a form of saturated fatty acid that can have a positive impact on our health. (You’ll see MCTs sometimes referred to as MCFAs, or medium-chain fatty acids.)
We know, of course, that a complete diet should include healthy fats, and MCT oil is a worthy source. It’s found in high concentrations in coconuts (around 65 percent of the fatty acids in coconut oil are MCTs) along with these foods:
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Medium-chain triglycerides get their name because of the length of their chemical structure. All types of fatty acids are made up of strings of connected carbon and hydrogen. Fats are categorized by their number of carbons:
- Short-chain fats (like butyric acid) have fewer than six carbons
- Medium-chain fats have between 6–12 carbons
- Long-chain fats (like omega-3s) have between 13–21
MCT Oil: Benefits Can Include Better Metabolism
In Western diets, we’re encouraged to go easy on saturated fats, but research has shown that they can be important building blocks for cell membranes while providing a worthy source of energy.
“Saturated fats are quite heterogeneous in nature and potentially also in their health effects,” according to doctors who conducted a study reported in The Journal of the American College of Nutrition.
“In fact, based on their structure, saturated fats can be sub-classified into short-chain, medium-chain, and long-chain fats whereas mono- and polyunsaturated fats are all long-chain fats,” the doctors’ statement continued. “Short-chain fatty acids are considered to have six or fewer carbon atoms, medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) have eight to 10 carbons, and long-chain fatty acids (LCFA) generally have 12 or more carbon chains.”
Studies have shown that MCT oils can help us lose or manage our weight, partly because they’re lower in calories than other fats. Plus, medium-chain fats digest easily and travel directly to our liver; once there, they facilitate thermogenesis, the process that boosts our metabolism and ability to burn fat.
This succinct explanation, as offered at NutritionReview.org, describes the benefits of limiting LCTs: “MCTs provide about 10 percent fewer calories than LCTs—8.3 calories per gram for MCTs vs. 9 calories per gram for LCTs. But this is just one of the unique advantages of MCTs. More important, reduced chain length also means that MCTs are more rapidly absorbed by the body and more quickly metabolized (burned) as fuel. The result of this accelerated metabolic conversion is that instead of being stored as fat, the calories contained in MCTs are very efficiently converted into fuel for immediate use by organs and muscles.”
MCT Oil Benefits Also Can Include Cognitive and Heart Health
MCT oil benefits also extend to brain health. The Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) notes that our bodies rapidly convert MCTs “into ketones, which can be used as an energy source by the brain. No studies have yet found that MCTs can prevent dementia, but some evidence suggest that patients with dementia might find short-term benefits from using MCTs.”
More studies, however, are needed in the area of MCTs and cognitive health. As the ADDF reports, “Some preclinical laboratory studies suggest that MCTs may improve some measures of cognition and prevent amyloid plaque formation in animals, but these results have not been confirmed in humans.”
As for heart health, certain studies have pointed to “a negative impact of MCT oil consumption on cardiovascular risk,” according to the National Institutes of Health. But a randomized, controlled study in 2011 found otherwise. “Our results,” wrote the authors, “suggest that MCT oil can be incorporated into a weight-loss program without fear of adversely affecting metabolic risk factors.”
Like anything, moderation is important; heavy doses of MCT oil could negate its benefits and even increase the potential risk for heart disease.
Still More MCT Oil Benefits: Digestive and Gastrointestinal Health
MCTs also may be effective in dealing with gastrointestinal issues. An article in Practical Gastroenterology in 2017 reports, “Medium-chain triglycerides [MCTs] comprise a glycerol molecule attached to 3 fatty acid chains ranging between 6 to 12 carbons in length. Unlike most other lipid molecules that require a complex process of digestion, MCTs are more easily absorbed into the bloodstream from the gastrointestinal tract. These features of MCTs confer unique benefits in the management of gastrointestinal disorders.
“As such,” the article continues, “MCTs have historically been used to treat steatorrhea resulting from malabsorptive disorders, such as pancreatic insufficiency, prior gastrectomy, and small bowel resection. [MCTs also] have been investigated for their potential to reduce obesity, cardiovascular disease, and neurological disorders.”
Originally published in 2017, this post is regularly updated.