Nutrition Myths
MCT Oil - all you need to know - evidence based health benefits

SUMMARY

  • MCT oil is an extract from tropical edible oils, such as coconut oil and palm kernel oil.
  • When MCT oil is metabolized, it produces ketone bodies that are used as an energy source by organs, such as the brain and heart.
  • MCT oil is an excellent source of energy and a great substitute for carbohydrates for those who are on low carb diets.
  • It has moderate, short term, body fat reducing properties.
  • MCT oil has many uses in nutritional medicine for people with a fat absorption condition or type 2 diabetes.
  • Exceeding 25-30g of MCT oil in one meal can cause negative symptoms, such as diarrhea, nausea or vomiting.
  • Choose an organic MCT oil that is extracted from coconuts with a combination of over 90% C8 and C10 fatty acids.
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MCT Oil benefits – evidence based

What is MCT oil?

MCT oil or median chain triglycerides oil is an extract from edible oils such as coconut or palm oils. It is tasteless, and can be either colorless or slightly yellowish.

MCTs are composed mainly of these two, medium chain fatty acids (although proportions differ depending on the product) (1):

  • Caprylic fatty acid – 8 carbons – (50-80%)
  • Capric fatty acid – 10 carbons – (20-50%)

Due to the predominant C8 and C10 fatty acids in its composition, MCT oil is liquid at room temperature.

MCT oil also contains a small proportion of:

  • Caproic fatty acid – six carbons – (1-2%)
  • Lauric fatty acid – 12 carbons – (1-2%)

The process of extracting from either coconut or palm kernel oil involves splitting, distilling and mixing to the desired ratio, then joining the fatty acids with glycerine to form triglycerides.

Although lauric acid is also a medium chain fatty acid, when processing coconut or palm kernel oils, it is separated from other MCTs, due to its value in pharmacology and cosmetics.

Since MCT oil consists mostly of caprylic and capric acid, lauric acid effects are usually not considered in these studies.

A good quality MCT oil should be composed almost entirely C8 and C10 fatty acids. Read the labels before buying. The health benefits of MCT oil listed in this article are mainly due to these two fatty acids.

NOTE: Some sources claim that health benefits of coconut oil are the same (or very similar) as benefits of MCT oil. This is not correct. There is a significant difference in composition of medium chain fatty acids in these oils, which makes them function differently in the body. (read more..)

MAIN POINTS

  • MCT oil is an extract from either coconut or kernel oil, that is mostly composed of Caprylic (C8) and Capric (C10) acids.
  • MCT Oil is tasteless and colorless.

Safety of MCT oil

MCT oils are considered safe for several reasons: (1)

  • They are derived from traditional foods that have been safely used for thousands of years
  • Studies show that a diet high in MCTs don’t cause health complications and that normal level consumption is not associated with the risk of ketoacidosis or ketonemia
  • They have very low acute toxicity
  • Long term usage of MCFs has not been linked to risk of cancer or genotoxicity
  • They can be used as a supplement of dietary fat with very little or no risk of toxicity
  • MCT oil intakes of up to 20g at one time doesn’t adversely affect the concentration of blood glucose and triglycerides (2)

MAIN POINTS

  • MCT oil is considered as safe to use as a part of a normal diet provided that the dosage is within the recommended intake (see below)

Recommended dosage of MCT oil

Studies show that an intake of more than 25-30g of MCTs in one meal, may trigger several gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, bloating, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea and abdominal discomfort.

If you have never taken MCT oil before and are not accustomed to eating coconut oil, introduce this supplement slowly to avoid the above-mentioned symptoms.

Start from one teaspoon with food and increase gradually.

Studies on animals showed no toxicological properties whether administered orally, parenterally or as a supplement in a balanced diet up to 15% of daily energy intake.

MAIN POINTS

  • MCT oil should be slowly introduced to the diet starting from small amounts
  • It is recommended not to exceed 25-30g of MCT oil with each meal to avoid gastrointestinal symptoms

MCT oil – main health benefits – evidence based

There are several health benefits of MCTs and MCT oil is the best source of these fats (read section on which MCT oil to choose).

They can be taken orally or injected, which can be useful in some clinical situations. (1)

NOTE: contrary to what many people believe, taking MCT Oil does not induce a state of ketosis unless you are on a ketogenic diet.  In other words, by taking MCT Oil as an energy source while on a high-carb diet, will simply utilize MCTs to produce immediate energy (ketones), but will not induce burning of body fat. If you want to change the way you metabolize fat and start burning your body fat more efficiently, you need to enter a state of ketosis (usually takes a few weeks of high fat/low carbohydrate diet). 

The following are the known properties and health benefits of MCT oil backed by strong scientific evidence:

  • MCTs provide an immediate source of energy

    MCTs are rapidly transferred from the intestine to the liver, where it is immediately transformed into energy without the need for proteins, enzymes and long absorption and metabolic processes.

    They produce energy without causing insulin spikes, as in the case of carbohydrates.

  • MCTs don’t cause weight gain like LCTs or carbohydrates

    Only a tiny amount of MCTs gets stored in the fatty cells. In contrast, most LCTs get stored in fatty cells, unless on a low carbohydrate diet (e.g. ketogenic diet) where they get converted to ketones.

    A diet high in carbohydrates leads to weight gain. (read more..)

  • MCTs form ketone bodies

    A large portion of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) from a diet high in MCTs are transformed into ketone bodies.

    The less carbons atoms MCTs have, the more ketone bodies are formed. For instance, C9 produces less ketones than C8. (3)

    Ketone bodies are the preferred fuel of the brain,  since they are small enough to pass through the blood-brain barrier. (4) They are also used by the heart, muscles, kidneys and liver. 

    In the brain, they are beneficial in the Alzheimer’s disease, while in the heart ketones are used in cardiomyopathies.

    Carbohydrates don’t form ketones and LCTs form ketones only in a ketogenic diet. (5)

    Note: the amount of ketone bodies produced from MCTs is not as high in high carbohydrate diet as when on a ketogenic diet or a prolonged fasting period, where the body mainly relies on ketones as a source of energy.

  • MCTs enhance ketogenic diet

    Studies found that using MCTs while in a ketogenic diet enables you to increase the portion of carbohydrates without compromising the ketone production, making this diet less difficult to follow. (6)

    The ketogenic diet is used for various diseases, such as epilepsy.

    It is not very palatable, since it limits the carbohydrate intake to about 50g per day and, therefore, most of the energy comes from dietary fat.

  • MCTs are a great energy source for athletes on a low carb diet

    MCT oil is a great fuel substitute for athletes in low carb diets.

    A study showed that 25g of MCT supplements given to low-carb athletes after an overnight fast, did not result in a significant increase in insulin and glucose levels in the blood. (7)

  • MCTs increase the size of benign LDL particles

    MCTs have shown to increase the size of LDL particles. (8) Studies found evidence that larger LDL particles are not associated with the formation of atherosclerotic plaque.

  • MCTs are well tolerated by people with fat absorption complications

    Since MCTs are so quickly absorbed without having to go through complex processes, they have fewer symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, bloating and gastrointestinal discomfort.

    MCTs are the best replacement for LCTs for people that experience fat absorption complications.

  • MCTs reduce more fat mass than LCTs or being on a low-fat diet

    When on very low-calorie diet, replacing LCTs with MCTs increases rate of burning body fat and spares muscle proteins from being burned for energy. More studies are needed.

  • MCTs do not increase fat metabolites in non-fatty tissues

    When an excess of fatty acids is metabolized, some of the by-products of this process are deposited in the non-fatty tissues (called ectopic fat), like muscles or organs.

    These metabolites lead to inflammation and increase insulin resistance and the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

    The consumption of MCTs have not shown to cause these metabolites to accumulate. (9)

  • MCT oil has many applications in medicine

    MCT oils have been successfully used on patients with various medical conditions. (See below section)

  • MCTs reduce intestinal injury and protect from liver damage. (10, 11)

    Some effects of MCT oil are exaggerated on popular websites and through the media.

    The following are some findings where the scientific evidence is weak, conflicting and/or the health effects are mild: (10, 11):

  • MCTs may contribute to improved insulin sensitivity

    It is proven that MCTs don’t cause insulin spikes and most studies show that a MCF diet reduces insulin resistance.  Although more studies are needed, insulin sensitivity improves in the short term and in the long term when on a high calorie diet. (12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17)

    However, there are some contradictory results. Animal studies show that insulin resistance may increase by the consumption of MCTs through different mechanisms than carbohydrates. (18, 19)

  • MCTs slightly increase metabolic rate

    Although MCTs stimulate the metabolic rate, it is only moderately and during a short period of time. (20, 21)

  • MCTs may spare polyunsaturated acids from oxidation

    Since MCTs are the preferred fatty acids to be oxidized in the body, the rate of oxidation of polyunsaturated fatty acids is reduced.

  • MCTs contribute to less free-fatty acids in the blood than LCTs

    Higher levels of free fatty acids in the blood are associated with insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. There are more free-fatty acids circulating in blood after overfeeding with LCTs (including mono and polyunsaturated) than with MCTs.

  • MCTs reduce LDL cholesterol

    MCTs have shown to slightly reduce LDL-c count in type 2 diabetics. However, the decrease is not significant. (12)

  • Capric and lauric acid prevent oxidative stress in high fat intake diet (22)
  • MCT oil may be effective intreating Candida Albicans yeast infections

    Capic and caprylic acid have been shown in vitro studies to stop the development of candida albicans. More studies are needed to see if it can be applied in humans. (23)

MAIN POINTS

  • MCT oil is an immediate energy source, produces ketone bodies, doesn’t cause gain weight as carbohydrates and LCTs do, and it reduces body fat.
  • It protects the muscle tissue in low-carb diets and is an effective substitute for glucose for athletes in a low carb diet.
  • MCT oil increase the sizes of benign LDL cholesterol, protects intestinal and liver injury and is a useful nutrient in some medical conditions.
  • There are several other potential health benefits of MCTs, although evidence is still weak: improvement in insulin sensitivity, improvement in the metabolic rate in the short term, reduction of free fatty acids in comparison to LCTs, increased rate of body fat burning on ketogenic diet, spare polyunsaturated acids from oxidation and may be useful in fighting candida albicans.

MCT oil is suitable for some medical conditions

As a safe, readily available energy source, MCTs are helpful in improving certain clinical symptoms and medical conditions:

  • Type 2 Diabetics

    Since MCFAs don’t cause spikes in insulin like carbohydrates, they are a suitable energy nutrient for diabetics.

    The consumption of MCTs in moderate amounts leads to reduced risk factors of type 2 diabetes and is associated with more weight loss, improved lipid profile and insulin sensitivity in comparison to LCTs. (12)

    A study of a 40% fat diet compared the effects of long and medium chain fatty acids and found that MCTs improved glucose metabolism in diabetics, since it improves the rate at which glucose is disposed. (24)

    A study on overweight type 2 diabetics have shown that replacing LCTs with MCTs in the amount of 18g per day for 90 days reduces the risk factors.

    The subjects showed a reduction of body weight and waist circumference and a decrease in insulin resistance and blood cholesterol. (25)

    MCFAs may also improve insulin sensitivity, although more studies are needed to confirm it.

    Pre-diabetics and diabetics can benefit from reducing dietary carbohydrates and increasing MCFAs intake from supplements, such as MCT oil.

  • Lipid absorption and metabolism disorders

    Since MCTs get absorbed and metabolized differently than LCTs, they have been used for many decades as a substitute for LCTs in patients with long chain fatty acid oxidation defects – where LCFAs are not absorbed and metabolized well. (26, 27)

  • Alzheimer’s disease

    MCTs improve cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

    In patients suffering from this condition, the parts of the brain affected show a decreased usage of glucose. MCTs is an effective substitute for glucose for these parts of the brain. (28)

  • Heart conditions

    Since MCFAs are used by the heart as an energy source, MCT oil has been shown to be beneficial in people with cardiomyopathies related to energy deficiency. (29)

  • Medical conditions where a ketogenic diet is applied

    For many decades, a ketogenic diet has been successfully used for reducing seizures in children with epilepsy.

    The standard ketogenic diet consists of 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% energy from carbohydrates, making this diet unpalatable and therefore difficult to follow. (30)

    Scientists have found that a MCT diet consisting of 71% total fat, 19% carbohydrate, and 10% protein, had the same effect on the seizures, with one advantage – more carbohydrates could be used, making the diet more palatable. (6)

    Please note that since a diet high in MCTs (60% energy from MCTs) may cause side effects in some children, such as cramps, diarrhea and vomiting, careful monitoring is necessary.

    A ratio of 50% MCTs and 50% of LCTs creates good conditions for ketosis with gastrointestinal tolerance. Nevertheless, some children can tolerate higher proportions, of 60%:40% or higher.

    Ketogenic diet is also used in other medical conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and cancer. Replacing some of the fats with MCT oil has enabled an increase in carbohydrate consumption, making the diets less difficult to follow. (31)

    Note: The best way to use MCTs in a Ketogenic diet is to spread it throughout the day and have it with each meal. This may improve tolerance to MCTs and reduce the risk of side effects.

  • Undernourished patients (29)

MAIN POINTS

  • MCT oil is a safe and alternative energy source, useful in various medical conditions
  • MCT oil improves clinical symptoms in people with fat metabolism defects, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiomyopathy related to energy deficiency and in undernourished patients.

MCT oil may slightly help in weight loss

Recent systematic scientific reviews show that MCTs have a mild effect on weight in the short term. (12, 32)

However, in the long term, the body adapts and the effects of MCTs are not as pronounced. (33, 34)

Nevertheless, MCTs behave differently in the body than LCTs and have a definite advantage over carbohydrates, which disrupt hormonal balance.

Overall, more studies are needed to provide stronger evidence and to estimate the optimum dosage of MCTs.

The following are a few mechanisms of how MCTs impact weight management:

  • Most of MCTs are rapidly converted to energy

    Most MCFAs are rapidly transported from the intestine to the liver, where they are immediately metabolized and used for energy and not stored in the body. (35)

  • MCTs are not stored efficiently in adipose tissues

    Since MCTs are quickly oxidized, only a very small percentage gets stored in the fatty tissues, not contributing to a body fat increase. (35)

  • MCTs suppress fat deposition

    MCTs suppress fat deposition by increasing thermogenesis, fat oxidation and preserving insulin sensitivity. (36)

  • MCTs are less caloric than LCTs

    MCTs have slightly less (9%) calories per gram than LCTs, due to their shorter carbon chains. MCTs have 8.3 kcal/g while LCTs have 9.1 kcal/g, and, therefore, contribute with less calories. (37)

  • MCTs increase thermogenesis

    MCTs increase the rate of thermogenesis (a metabolic process in which the body burns more calories to produce heat) more than through the consumption of LCTs and carbohydrates (38, 39, 40, 41)

  • MCTs has the potential of burning fat in fatty cells

    Invitro lab studies show that when fatty cells are pre-treated with Caprylic acid, the lipolysis rate (burning of the fat) increases to levels mimicking starvation.

    These studies show that caprylic acid can be efficiently used in reducing body fat. (42)

    A diet rich in MCTs also increases energy expenditure and fat oxidation, which is believed to contribute to a greater loss of body fat.

    Adding 15-30g per day of MCTs to your diet may increase energy expenditure by about 5%. (43, 44)

  • MCTs leads to greater satiety, compared to LCTs and coconut oil (2)
  • MCTs have better body fat management proprieties than other energy nutrients

    When MCTs replace part of LCTs, they may be beneficial in weight maintenance and body composition (less body fat) and also be useful in the prevention of obesity.

    However, more studies are needed. (45, 46)

  • MCTFAs function in adipose tissue to reduce fat accumulation

    MCFAs form part of triglycerides in the adipose (fatty) tissue and decrease fat production and accumulation in the fatty cells by: down-regulating adipogenic genes responsible for the production and accumulation of lipids in the fatty cells and by affecting receptors that regulate fatty acid storage and glucose metabolism.

  • Substituting LCTs with MCTs results in less energy intake and less weight gain.

    A study on a high fat diet of energy intake: 62% of fat, 28% of carbohydrates, 10% of protein has shown that changing the proportion of MCTs to LCTs results in less weight gain and an increase in satiety. (47)

MAIN PONTS

  • Moderate amounts (around 25g per meal) of MCTs added to your diet may slightly reduce your body fat.
  • Although the weight loss is not as significant as with other weight loss methods, it is still beneficial to partly replace carbohydrates and LCFs as energy nutrients.

Is MCT Oil Powder a good substitute for MCT Oil?

MCT Oil Powder is a relatively new product, sometimes used as a substitute for MCT Oil. In contrast to oil, it is convenient to transport, easily combined with other supplements and foods, and may be easier to digest.

However, most well documented studies on the health benefits of MCTs were conducted on MCT Oil, and the efficacy of its powdered form is yet to be proven. There is simply not enough research to say with certainty that MCT Oil Powder has the same effect as its original, liquid form.

Additionally, the process of producing powder requires a carrier material (usually cheap industrial fiber waste products), and may contain various additives, cheap fillers, sugars and artificial sweeteners, that reduce the quality and the desired health properties of MCTs.

MAIN PONTS

  • MCT Oil Powder may contain many additional ingredients that reduce the health benefits of MCTs.
  • There is not enough scientific evidence to prove that the powder form of MCTs has the same effects, as well documented MCT Oil.
  • For guaranteed results use MCTs in oil form.

Which MCT oil to choose?

MCT oil is extracted from coconut and palm kernel oils.

The majority of palm kernel oil comes from a few islands in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Palm kernel oil is surrounded by controversy related to big corporations clearing rainforests and contributing to climate change, air, soil and water pollution, soil erosion, removing of indigenous people from their lands, robbing them of their livelihood and destroying the natural habitats of many animal species, including endangered species, such as the orangutan and Sumatran tiger. (48, 49)

The best MCT Oil products contain 100% MCTs of which majority consists of C8 and C10.

Avoid MCT Oil products with added sugars or where nutritional information is missing a break-down of the components. 

Overall, to achieve the full benefits of MCT oil, here are some tips when choosing the right product:

  • Nutritional information and ingredients clearly show what does the product contain.
  • Make sure that caprylic and capric acids make up the majority of the total contents (close to 100%).
  • For ethical reasons, choose MCT oil made of coconut oil.
  • When choosing MCT oil made of palm kernel oil, make sure it is from ecologically friendly plantations.
  • Most MCT oil is made using manufacturing processes that involve chemicals (1). Where possible, buy organic MCT Oil.

Note: MCT oils are also available in an emulsified form. This means that the MCT oil can now be added to liquids without raising and forming a fatty film on the surface.

MAIN POINTS

  • The best MCT oil is organic, made from coconut with high (close to 100%) contents of C8 and C10 fatty acids.

Suggestions on MCT oil usage

Considering the following characteristics of MCT oil:

  • Tasteless
  • Liquid form
  • Rapidly converts to energy
  • May experience adverse digestive symptoms, if take more than 25-30g in one meal
  • Unsuitable for frying and high temperatures
  • Available in emulsified form

Here are a few culinary ideas for home-made uses of MCT Oil:

  1. Add to liquids, such as smoothies, yogurt dishes (e.g. tzatziki) or coffee.
  2. Add to breakfast cereals (e.g. oat meal, or on top of toasted muesli)
  3. Add to puddings, when making ice cream, or custard deserts
  4. Add on top of the fried eggs, once they have been cooked
  5. Mix with avocado to make a spread
  6. Blend into hummus
  7. Use in sauces (e.g. pesto, chili oil)
  8. Use in salad dressings, either by itself or mixed with other oils, such as olive, flaxseed or coconut oil
  9. Use in home-made mayonnaise
  10. Add to soup, when ready to serve
  11. MCT oil can also be used for oil pulling (read more..)

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