The Essential Guide to MCT oil
MCT Oil is becoming more well known and widely used in the world of health and fitness. Have you heard of this magic oil yourself, and wondered what it really does to the body?
This guide will cover not only what this oil is, but also the main uses, benefits and research behind this nutritional powerhouse.
MCTs stand for Medium-chain Triglycerides (also known as medium-chain fatty acids or MCFA’s). The word ‘medium’ simply means that they have between 6 and 10 carbon atoms, compared with other Short or Long-chain Triglycerides (SCTs or LCTs) that affect the body in different ways. They are an ideal energy source as these acids are complete in their chemical makeup, not needing other enzymes for absorption to occur in the body.
Since our bodies need energy to function, supporting our physical being with high quality, nutritionally dense foods and supplements is key for a healthy and vibrant system.
MCTs are metabolized by the liver to transform into efficient and instant energy. The energy molecule called a ‘ketone’ is created in this process, which impacts on the way the body utilises energy, delivers it to the brain and entire system, and impacts on a number of body functions. Below we explain more about the way in which MCT oil is created, how ketosis is affected, and how the body benefits from taking this oil.
The different types of MCTs found in food sources and MCT based oils contain a mix of:
- 1.Caproic Acid
- 1.Caprylic Acid
- 1.Capric Acid
- 1.Lauric Acid
This oil is a human made product that is created by blending caprylic and capric acids, by the distillation process. Though the process is not ‘natural’, the nutrients and fats used are (they are not synthetic chemical creations). Often, these acids are extracted from foods like coconut and palm kernel oil, to create a more ‘pure’ oil that is used for this purpose of clean and efficient energy. MCT oils can differ in quality and purity, and for the best results and benefits (we go into these below) it’s best to find high quality oil. The most pure MCT oil won’t have a distinct taste and at room temperature it is liquid, similar to coconut oil. Read the labels carefully, as the cheaper MCT oil options tend to cut their costs by blending the oil with more additions like extra lauric acid, which will make the MCT oil less effective.
The reason why MCT oil is different to coconut is the profile of acids that it contains. Coconut oil contains all 4 medium chain fatty acids listed above. In this case though, more does not mean better, as it is made mostly of lauric acid, which is the least efficient of the MCTs. 55% of coconut oil contains is made of MCTs, whereas MCT oil is 100% MCTs. The most energy dense and metabolically efficient acids are caprylic and capric acid, which is what MCT oil only uses (if high quality). Lauric acid is digested slower in our body, compared with caprylic and capric acid, which are metabolized directly through liver to create ketones; more ketones means faster energy.
The Ketosis Effect
The ketogenic diet focuses on this idea of efficient and potent energy creation in the body through healthy fats, rather than the average way people access energy, through the glucose found in carbohydrates. The thermogenic effect of the MCTs creates ketones in the liver, which allows the body to metabolize energy much faster than when glucose is used for energy.
These are the reasons for the efficiency in MCTs interaction (ketosis effect) with the body:
- They get to the liver very quickly, not having to pass through additional internal systems that other SCT and LCTs do.
- They don’t need further breaking down like LCTs, which means that they are already in the right state to be absorbed.
- They enter the energy metabolizing area of the cell instantly (the double membrane of mitochondria).
- They don’t require additional enzymes to be converted to energy, like some LCTs do.
Benefits of MCT Oil
Aside from the ketosis effect, which is becoming more popular in modern health and nutrition with many taking up a ketogenic diet, there are a multitude of benefits to be experienced when taking MCT’s. From cognitive functioning to lowering blood sugar levels, studies reveal that taking MCT oil can have powerful effects on our wellbeing.
The rapid metabolizing of MCTs means that already the energy is less likely to be stored as fat since it is readily available to cells. MCT’s have a thermogenic effect (calorie burning), which boosts your body’s metabolism and can aid in weight loss. The ketogenic diet is often one that people who are looking for fat loss turn to.
One study in The Journal of Nutrition examined the impact of changing only the type of fat consumption in a group of participants, keeping the rest of their nutritional intake the same. The group was spit between those consuming MCTs and people who consumed LCTs. Over 12 weeks, it was found that the MCT consuming participants had an overall average of body weight and body fat loss to be almost 7 pounds more lost than those who took LCTs.
The mechanism behind MCTs enabling fat loss is that MCTs react in the body different to other fats, which means they are less likely to produce fat deposits. There’s enhanced thermogenesis and greater production of Ketones, meaning that the body is more efficiently using this as energy, rather than storing it and then accessing it later. More studies in this same journal looked at this suppression of body fat in a range of people, demonstrating that there is definitely a link between MCTs and healthy weight management.
Furthermore, MCT oil helps to increase levels of satiety (feeling of being full). Hormones leptin and peptide YY are those responsible for letting us know when we are not hungry anymore, and these are released more readily by the process of MCTs metabolizing in the body.
Our brains are actually made up of a great deal of fatty acts, which means that feeling with fats makes our brain super happy.
Your body absorbs MCTs more readily, as they travel from the gut to the liver, to be available to be used as fuel straight away. The energy created from the MCT’s are either burned instantly, or converted to the Ketone response, which the brain cells use for its own cognitive energy needs. The Ketones do this by passing through a ‘blood-brain barrier’, which basically fuels the nervous system running through to the bran. One study published in the journal Front Aging in Neuroscience revealed higher blood ketone levels being produced by taking MCT’s, which was linked to the improvement in memory related performance for participants who have experienced memory impairment.
Anti-fungal and Antimicrobial effects
Research demonstrates that the caprylic and capric acid in MCT’s can reduce the growth of Candida albicans (a fungal yeast infection) by 25%. Infectious fungal spreading has also been suppressed in hospital conditions by up to 50% though the use of MCTs.
The natural antibiotic effect helps to manage harmful bacteria in the gut, without removing the beneficial bacteria. Not only do MCTs help to remove other bacteria associated with virus and disease, the fats in MCTs are a key element of vitamin and mineral absorption in the body.
A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrates a significant difference in blood triglyceride levels (cardiovascular disease indicator) in hypertriglyceridemia patients who have taken LCT’s compared with MCTs for 8 weeks. It was shown that the MCT oil was had almost a 15% decrease in these levels. This indicates that MCT oil can assist with preventing and managing heart diseases by moderating the blood triglyceride levels.
As MCTs assist in the fat burning process, this can help people dealing with weight management in the condition of Type 2 Diabetes, which generally makes it much harder to maintain healthy weight. Studies confirm this effect of insulin resistance reducing and weight lowering when taking daily MCT oil. There are modest results from research stating that MCT’s can also assist in balancing blood sugar levels. The factor of insulin sensitivity reduced points to the effect of MCT’s possibly working to help prevent the onset of Diabetes also.
Energy and Exercise
MCT oil has gained popularity amongst athletes. Due to the energy creation that this oil stimulates, athletes are beginning to utilise MCT’s as a way to fuel exercise, and also reduce lactate levels, which can hinder performance. Studies have found a reduction in lactate levels for those who were taking MCTs before cycling. Though research is still in early stages, nutritional science and physiology experts are finding links between taking MCTs and improved performance in moderate intensity exercise.
Disease Treatment and Prevention
Some studies have even proposed a positive effect on managing conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and autism. Ketone production has been linked to managing the frequency of seizures due to epilepsy. As Alzheimer’s disease is linked to cognitive decline, the cognitive functioning that is enhanced with the brain cell protection by ketones can also assist those who are suffering from Alzheimer’s condition (the study found this response in people who had a particular genome). For Autism, behaviour was found to shift when children were placed on a longer-term ketogenic diet. Though more research is needed all of the areas mentioned above, these hints of positive effects are a great starting point to support the value of ketone production as energy for our bodies, brought about by a diet rich in MCTs.
Considerations of Taking MCT Oil
Start off with a smaller amount of MCT oil. The body needs to get familiar with this form of fat and energy production. Begin with one teaspoon per day, and when the metabolism begins to adjust, increase your dosage to a tablespoon per day.
Only use for cooking at a low temperature or to make raw snacks (energy balls and bars). Don’t heat MCT oil higher than 150 - 160 degrees Celsius. Higher than this will oxidize and breakdown the oil, stripping it from nutritional benefits.
Store the oil in a cool and dry area, and it can last up to 2 years.
How to Take it
- Add to coffee and other hot beverages - ever heard of bulletproof coffee? Look into it.
- Add to smoothies for a daily dosage.
- Use before or after workouts, they fuel your body for workouts, and can refuel after exercise to boost the recovery process.
- Use in salads for dressings, add to dips, use in spaces and pesto.
When an oil is this good for your body, it makes sense to take it as part of your daily health ritual.