Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) are triglycerides with two or three fatty acids, having tails that are 6-12 carbons in length (1).
There are three main types of MCTs based on their length. Caproic acid has a length of 6 carbons, caprylic acid has a length of 8 carbons, capric acid has a length of 10 carbons, and lauric acid has a length of 12 carbons. Natural sources include coconut oil, palm kernel oil and dairy fat (2).
MCTs are easily digested and absorbed, due to their shorter length, and as such can initiate whole body healing effects. MCTs have been considered safe for human consumption by the FDA for over 20 years (3).
1MCT oil helps with weight loss. A 2015 study showed that an MCT rich diet (both natural and synthetic) resulted in more fat loss when compared to an LCT rich diet (4).
However, the effects seem to disappear after 14 to 21 days.
The magic is that MCT’s are broken down faster than LCTs making them more readily used by the body and less likely to be converted to and stored as fat (7).
A 2003 study compared the effects of diets rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) or long-chain triglycerides (LCTs) on body composition, energy expenditure, substrate oxidation, subjective appetite, and ad libitum energy intake in 24 overweight men.
It was found that the consumption of a diet rich in MCTs results in greater loss of AT compared with LCTs, perhaps due to increased energy expenditure and fat oxidation observed with MCT intake. Thus, MCTs may be considered as agents that aid in the prevention of obesity or potentially stimulate weight loss (8).
A 1996 study set out to determine the effect on body composition and 24-hour energy expenditure with low doses of MCT’s. This study suggests that relatively low-to-moderate intake of MCT (15-30 g per day) as part of habitual diet may play a role in the control of human body composition by enhancing daily energy expenditure, and that this effect is mediated at least in part through activation of the sympathetic nervous system (9).
2MCT’s help increase the feeling of fullness. A 2014 study showed that both leptin and peptide YY (two hormones that promote the feeling of fullness in the body) was increased with supplementation of MCT oil (10).
A 2017 study found that MCT oil may even work better than nature’s own coconut oil. The study determined that when people took MCT oil, they consumed less food than those taking coconut oil (11).
3MCT’s can fuel your brain. A 2014 study showed improvements in memory, brain processing and learn with MCT consumption (12).
Another 2015 study looked at coconut oil and MCT’s as a brain enhancer for Alzheimer’s patients. It was observed in subjects taking the product, a statistically significant increase in test score and therefore an improvement in cognitive status, improving especially women’s, those without diabetes mellitus type II, and severe patients (13).
Another 2015 study showed that MCT’s could improve memory compared to placebos in individuals with mild cognitive impairments (14).
4MCT’s can lower cholesterol. A 2016 study involving obese individuals showed that MCT supplementation lowered LDL/HDL ratio, total, and HDL-cholesterol. It also improved cardio-metabolic profile in obese individuals (15).
One 1978 study on Calves that consumed MCT-rich milk had lower cholesterol than calve that consumed LCT-rich milk (16).
A 2009 human study showed that natural MCT’s reduced LDL cholesterol and increased HDL cholesterol when compared to soybean oil when combined with a low-calorie diet (17).
However the results have been mixed. Another 2004 study compared the effects of a diet rich in either MCT’s or oleic acid on fasting blood lipids, lipoproteins, glucose, insulin, and lipid transfer protein activities in healthy men. MCTs resulted in 12% higher LDL-cholesterol concentrations, 32% higher VLDL-cholesterol concentrations, a 12% higher ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol, and 22% higher blood total triglyceride concentrations (18).
5MCT’s can help manage diabetes. One study demonstrated that diets rich in MCTs increased insulin sensitivity in adults with type 2 diabetes. Specifically, 30% less sugar was needed to maintain normal serum sugar levels with the supplementation of MCT (19).
One small 2007 Chinese study of 40 people with diabetes found reductions in body weight, insulin resistance and waist circumference in the group who consumed MCT oil daily versus corn oil containing LCTs (20).
A 1999 study showed that MCT’s suppress the development of fungus in hospitals by up to 50% (25).
Another 2013 test-tube study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food demonstrated reduced growth of a disease-causing bacteria called Clostridium difficile, when MCT’s were used (26).
7MCT’s may enhance exercise performance. MCTs may help reduce lactate buildup and thus help athletes push harder for longer.
A 2009 study out of Tokyo found that athletes who consumed about 1.5 teaspoons of LCT’s with food before cycling had higher lactate levels and found it harder to exercise, compared to those taking MCT’s (27).
Since MCT’s is used for energy quickly, it helps the body shift from a sugar burning state to a fat burning one. However, improving performance is still not 100% certified as a few studies found physical improvements in mice but none in humans (28, 29, 30).
However, studies show that it doesn’t hurt performance which is always a good first step in the right direction (31).
8MCT’s can help treat Alzheimer’s. A 2004 study showed that MCT’s were able to improve cognition in 20 patients with Alzheimer’s (32).
However, all subjects had a specific gene type, so it’s uncertain if it was just the MCT’s working or something else.
A 2016 study showed an improvement in symptoms of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s when patients supplemented with 20–70 grams of MCTs (33).
However, we must remember that autism can affect children in many different ways since it is a spectrum condition. This means that adding MCT oil to your child’s diet may help to varying degrees or may show no positive effects. More research is needed here, as well (36).
10MCT’s can help treat epilepsy. One test-tube study showed that the MCT capric acid improved seizure control better than a widespread anti-epileptic drug (37).
Another study in rats found that the same MCT blocked receptors in the brain that cause seizures, though more human studies are needed (38).
11MCT’s can help with fat malabsorption. Due to the short chains of MCT’s, they can bypass a lot of the digestive processes required and provide nutrition for the body much easier and faster – especially in scenarios where digestion might be compromised (39).
12MCTs may help balance the gut microbiome. In turn, it may help in numerous digestive diseases, such as celiac disease, liver issues, diarrhea, and other digestive problems. Further, a 2016 study suggested that MCTs may help in metabolic processes by balancing out the gut microbiome (40).
13MCTs may be used as a therapeutic component in treating Alzheimer’s Disease. A 2008 study indicated that MCTs involved in producing ketosis helped improve cognitive functioning in those patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s Disease symptoms (41).
14MCTs may aid in treating chylothorax, a rare lung disease.
Researchers explored this relationship in a 2010 study. In the study, 24 patients with chylothorax were put on an MCT diet. 17 patients were considered successes. In other words, the MCT diet proved useful in 71% of patients with chylothorax (42).
15An MCT diet may help control seizures in children. In a 2012 study, researchers explored an MCT diet in relation to seizures in children. The results showed that an MCT diet promoting ketogenesis was actually more effective than the established epilepsy treatment called Valproate or VPA. It further highlighted how this method had reduced side effects when compared to the current and existent treatment strategies (43).
Another study presented a case involving a 43-year-old man with epilepsy. He was instructed by researchers to take 4 tablespoons of MCT oil daily. His seizures were decreased from numerous seizures every day to 1 seizure approximately every 4 days. Researchers suggested that MCT may prove to be a viable treatment method for not just children with epilepsy, but also adults (44).
A 2009 study also had similar results. Again, an MCT ketogenic diet was credited for reducing seizure incidences in children (45).
1MCT’s can cause IBS like symptoms. Many people when they take too much MCT at once when first starting out seem to find it upsets the stomach and intestines causing cramping and diarrhea.
2MCT’s can increase your appetite. A 2017 study found that MCTs increased the release of two hormones that stimulate appetite, ghrelin and neuropeptide Y, in people with anorexia (46).
However, it is unclear whether the increase in these hormones actually causes you to eat more.
3MCT’s may cause fat buildup in the liver. A 2017 study on mice showed that when 50% of dietary fat was MCT, the liver became fattier. That being said, MCT’s improved insulin resistance and overall body fat (47).
Currently, its advised to start at 1 teaspoon and gradually work your way up to the normal 1-3 tablespoons per day. However, there is currently no upper limit too much one can consume.
Also, there are currently no reported adverse interactions with medications or other serious side effects.
What does MCT mean? Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) a glycerine ester combined with medium-chain triglycerides distinguished from other triglycerides by having 8 to 10 carbon atoms. Once hydrolyzed, these fatty acids can be absorbed directly into the portal system.
What are the side effects of MCT oil? They can cause diarrhea, vomiting, irritability, nausea, stomach discomfort, intestinal gas, essential fatty acid deficiency, and other side effects. Taking MCTs with food might reduce some side effects.
How do you take MCT? MCTs are safe for most people when taken by mouth or given intravenously (by IV). They are usually mixed into coffee, smoothies, salad dressings or used to cook and fry foods.
Is coconut oil and MCT oil the same? No, the main difference between MCT oil and coconut oil is their MCT content. Coconut oil is 55% MCTs, while MCT oil is made 100% of MCTs.
How much MCT oil should I take for weight loss? You can stay at 1 tablespoon for 1-2 weeks before attempting to increase up to 2 tablespoons per day which is the ideal dose. Most of the benefits of MCT oil will be realized at this 2 tablespoon dosage (including weight loss, cognition, gut health, etc.).
Is MCT oil bad for cholesterol? Studies show saturated fat raises LDL (your so-called “bad” cholesterol), but it improves the quality of the LDL and increases its size making it less likely to promote heart disease. It also raises HDL (“good” cholesterol).
What are the best natural sources of MCT oil? Coconut oil, palm kernel oil and dairy products are all good natural sources of MCT oils, with coconut oil being the best.
How does MCT oil help you lose weight? Consider MCT oil as a super fuel for your cells, because it boosts fat burning and increases mental clarity. MCT can also help you lose weight because it is quickly burned and metabolized.
Can an MCT diet help control seizures? Research indicates yes. An MCT diet promotes ketosis which has shown to significantly reduce seizure episodes – specifically in those suffering from epileptic seizures.
Is MCT powder or oil better? Both the liquid and powder forms of MCTs are a great source of clean and sustainable energy. However, the oil is almost always higher quality and more expensive. Thus if you can afford it, get the oil.
Medium-chain triglycerides have many potential health benefits.
While they are not a ticket to dramatic weight loss, they may provide a modest benefit. The same can be said for their role in endurance exercise. MCTs are also a great source of energy, protect the heart and brain from disease and even fight bacterial growth.
MCTs can often cause an upset stomach, especially for new users. As long as it’s tapered up then you shouldn’t have an issue with this. It can also cause weight gain if it simply adds to your daily fat intake instead of replacing it.
As per any supplementation or addition to your diet, consider checking with your family doctor before consumption. They know you and your specific health history which means they will be better suited to determine if MCTs are right for you.