What are Medium Chain Triglycerides?

Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) have fatty acid tails that are 6-12 carbons in length (R).
There are both synthetic and natural MCTs. Natural sources include coconut oil, palm kernel oil and dairy fat. (R).

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. The amount of each type varies based on what they are derived from (R).

In the past, MCTs have been used in the treatment of digestives problems such as pancreatic insufficiency, fat malabsorption, and severe hyperchylomicronemia (R).

MCTs have been considered safe for human consumption by the FDA for over 20 years (R).

Health Benefits of MCTs

1) MCTs are Antimicrobial and Antiviral

One type of MCT, lauric acid, is better at killing bacteria and viruses than caprylic acid or capric acid (R, R).

In newborn children, MCTs as well as medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) derived from maternal milk, had antimicrobial effects in the gut tract and reduced pathogen transmission (R).

MCTs and MCFAs have also been shown to reduce the growth of a certain species of Malassezia, an infectious fungus widespread in hospitals (R).

Studies of MCTs on rats showed improved gut integrity, modulation of the immune response and improved intestinal secretion of antibodies (R).

In piglets, MCTs lowered intestinal pH, modulated the gut microenvironment, and potentially prevented postweaning diarrhea (R).

2) MCTs Aid in Weight Loss

One study on overweight men found that MCTs, compared to Long Chain Triglycerides (LCTs), led to reduced appetite and increased feelings of fullness (R).

This MCT rich diet caused greater fat burning and fat loss when compared to an LCT rich diet. It also indicated that these effects can diminish after the body has adapted, around 2-3 weeks (R).

Several other studies in both animals and humans have shown that MCTs (caprylic and capric) increase the body’s ability to burn fat and calories (R, R, R, R, R, R, R).

MCTs were found to reduce fat and calorie intake in a study on 36 healthy women (R).

MCTs can increase satiety, or feelings of fullness, which leads to reduced food intake and causing weight loss (R).

They 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 (R).

In humans, MCT consumption for 4 weeks induced energy expenditure, fat burning, and body weight loss (R).

MCT oils can be incorporated into weight loss programs without any negative effects on metabolic health (R).

An analysis of experiments showed after 3 weeks of MCT consumption or more participants had reduced body weight, waist circumference, hip circumference, total body fat, total subcutaneous fat, and visceral fat compared to LCT (R).

Studies performed on cells showed MCTs reduces the conversion of excess carbohydrates to fats (R).

3) MCTs Enhance Exercise Performance

A study on mice found that they performed much better in swimming tests when fed an MCT rich diet compared to an LCT rich diet (R).

It has also been shown that consuming food containing MCTs instead of LCTs for 2 weeks increases the duration of high-intensity exercise in recreational athletes (R).

4) MCTs Can Affect Cholesterol

Calves that consumed MCT-rich milk had lower cholesterol than calve that consumed LCT-rich milk (R).

Multiple rat studies have linked natural MCTs to improved cholesterol levels and higher antioxidant vitamin levels (R, R).

MCTs lowered LDL/HDL ratio, total, and HDL-cholesterol. It also improved cardiometabolic profile in obese individuals (R).

In humans, natural sources of MCT, like coconut oil, along with low-calorie diets led to reduced LDL cholesterol and increased HDL cholesterol when compared to soybean oil (R).

Other studies have shown that MCT supplements had no effects or even negative effects on cholesterol (R, R).

Another study done on healthy men reported increases in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (R).

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 triacylglycerol concentrations (R).

5) MCTs Helps With Diabetes

One study showed that diets rich in MCTs increased insulin sensitivity in adults with type 2 diabetes (R).

A different study on individuals with type 2 diabetes showed that MCT supplementation improved diabetes risk factors as well as reduced body weight, waist circumference and insulin resistance (R).

However, in one study, MCTs resulted in significantly higher blood glucose concentrations (R).

6) MCTs Benefits the Brain

MCTs have been shown to improve learning, memory, and brain processing in individuals with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, although this was only noticed in those who had the APOE4 gene (R).

They have also been shown to improve memory compared to placebos in individuals with mild cognitive impairments (R).

One study observed an improvement in cognitive status, especially women, those without diabetes type II, and severe patients (R).

7) MCTs Improve Muscle Strength for Elderly

One study showed that supplementation of MCTs along with leucine-rich amino acids and Vitamin D3 may improve muscle strength and function in frail elderly individuals (R).

8) MCTs Enhance Effects of Fish Oil

A study on rats showed MCTs and MCFAs enhanced the beneficial effects of fish oil on selected heart risk factors (R).

Serum liver EPA and DHA levels were remarkably elevated in rats fed fish oil-enriched MCT (R).

Side Effects

Nausea, stomach cramping, and other gut problems are a known side effect of MCTs (R).

Dosage

A single dose of MCT ranging between 5 and 50 g or a weeklong diet containing 40% MCT-fat systematically leads to elevated post-meal oxygen consumption and thermogenesis, increased total fat oxidation, higher energy expenditure and diminished energy storage in comparison with LCT administered under identical conditions (RRR).

Technical Section/Mechanisms

MCTs are absorbed directly into the portal vein, transported rapidly to the liver for beta-oxidation, and thus increases diet-induced heat creation compared to long-chain fats which are absorbed via the intestinal lymphatic ducts and transported by chylomicrons through the thoracic duct into the systemic circulation (R).

  • Increases peptide YY and leptin concentrations (R).
  • Studies performed on cells showed MCTs induce heat creation and reduces fat production (R).
  • MCTs reduce fat mass, through down-regulation of adipogenic genes as well as PPARy (R).
  • Antimicrobial effects on C. difficile result from cell membrane disruption (R).
  • Suppresses the increase in blood lactate concentration and RPE during moderate-intensity exercise and extends the duration of subsequent high-intensity exercise, at levels higher than those achieved by ingestion of LCT-containing food (R).
  • Lowers fat levels in blood and tissues and LDL oxidation by oxidants (R).
  • Increased mean fasting blood beta-hydroxybutyrate levels (R).
  • Increased C-peptide levels (R).
  • Increased amount of blood ketone bodies (R).
  • Reduced blood fat peroxides, total cholesterol, triglycerides (TAGs), TNF, IL-6 and C-reactive protein (R).

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