MCT is an acronym for medium chain triglycerides. These are lipids or fats whose molecules contain 6 to 12 carbon-lengths. MCTs are different from LCT, or long chain triglycerides in that, LCTs contain 14 or more carbons in a molecule. As a consequence of these differences, MCT oil and LCT oil are processed differently in the body.
Once broken down into fatty acids within the small intestines, medium chain fatty acids are transported directly to the liver through portal circulation. This mode of transport allows for faster utilization of MCT in the body. By contrast, long chain fatty acids are transported through the peripheral circulatory system. This takes longer before LCT oil gets ready for use in the body.
How Does MCT Work in the Body?
In the liver, the medium chain fatty acids are transformed into energy-producing compounds called ketones which are distributed throughout the body to work as a source of energy. In this respect, MCT is used in a similar way to glucose.
Ketosis and Ketogenic Diet
The process of breakdown of oil, especially MCT oil into ketones is called ketosis, and is the foundation of ketogenic diets. It is worth noting that volume to volume, the energy content of oil is much higher than that of carbohydrates.
Coupled with the ease of uptake, including getting into the brain, MCT oil forms an important and choice component of a ketogenic diet. Keto diet includes a lot of fats or oils as a source of energy, while cutting out, or reducing intake of carbohydrates. It is mainly used by people who are trying to lose weight. Ketosis is also known to help with certain medical conditions.
Sources of MCT Oils
While there is some MCT oil in foods like milk, cheese, butter, and yoghurt, the amounts are minimal. This means that eating such foods cannot provide any significant amounts of MCT oil. Palm kernel oil and coconut oil are the highest food sources of MCT oil. However, the MCT in these oils is mixed up with other triglycerides including LCTs.
To produce pure MCT oil, palm kernel, and coconut oils are processed through fractional separation. The resultant oil can be used in specific quantities to achieve the desired effects without the danger of consuming high amounts of non-MCT such as LCTs.
Many studies have found that regular intake of MCT oil can benefit the body in a variety of ways. These include the following:
MCT Oil Increases Satiety and Reduces Obesity
The feeling of hunger comes about as a response to hormone activity triggered by a drop in energy within the body. The levels of these hormones drop once you have taken a meal. This happens because there is food in the stomach undergoing digestion in readiness for absorption.
Once consumed, MCT requires only to be broken down into medium chain fatty acids to provide energy. By comparison, long chain fatty acids obtained from the breakdown of LCTs, require additional processing because they are larger. For this reason eating a small amount of MCT leads to a feeling of satiety compared to a similar amount of LCT.1)
Because MCT are broken down to provide energy faster, and increase satiety, you do not need to eat too much food part of which would be stored as fat. This can cause the body to burn more calories so that there is little left for conversion and storage as body fat.2)
MCT Oil Helps in the Management of Epilepsy
MCT oil is also used in the treatment of epilepsy. Studies have found that using a ketogenic diet reduces seizures, even in cases that have not responded to medication. This is because, the ketones produced from the oil work as a ready source of energy for the brain. It is no wonder that ketogenic diets, especially based on MCT oil, have become an important component in the management of epilepsy.3)
MCT Oil Boost Brain Function
The brain of a person with Alzheimer’s disease does not readily take up glucose for energy. This leads to energy deficiency in the brain, which is the main cause of deterioration of cognitive, and other brain functions. But unlike glucose, ketones produced from MCT oil easily get into the brain and serve as a ready source of energy.
A recent review of several studies found that while the brain of a person with Alzheimer’s does not readily take up glucose, it takes up, and utilizes ketones at a similar rate to a person without Alzheimer’s. It therefore makes sense to include MCT oil in the diet of people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias.4)
Boosts Physical Performance, and Endurance
Studies suggest that MCT oil can improve physical performance, and endurance. This is thought to work because of the ease of breakdown of MCT compared to long chain fats which take longer to break down. This is good news for athletes who would like to work out for longer, and improve their performance.5)
MCT Helps in the Management of Diabetes Type 2
Regular intake of MCT oil can help in the management of diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels. The ketones produced from the breaking down of MCT are a source of energy that works in a similar way to glucose without raising blood glucose level.
Additionally, MCT may improve insulin sensitivity so that the available insulin performs better at controlling blood glucose levels.6)
MCT Oil Lowers Bad Cholesterol
Studies have also found that MCT may lower cholesterol levels in the body. According to the studies, MCT reduces the amount of LDL cholesterol, also called bad cholesterol. At the same time, MCT can raise good cholesterol, or HDL levels. This has many benefits including improving heart, and circulatory health. Still, it is important that you do not take more MCT oil than the recommended amount because this can lead to increased body weight.7)
Can Kill Harmful Microbes in the Body
Dietary MCT, especially coconut oil is high in lauric acid, which is known to have antimicrobial properties. Regular use can help reduce the numbers of these harmful pathogens within the digestive system. MCT can also help improve dental health when used as a mouth wash in a process called oil-pulling.8)