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MCT Oil: Benefits, Side Effects, and Types

MCT oil, also called medium-chain triglyceride oil, is a dietary supplement made of fats that may provide a wide range of health benefits, aiding in weight loss, memory improvement, and blood sugar regulation, among others. MCT oil is rapidly absorbed and used as energy for muscles and organs, so it tends not to get stored as fat in the body. However, while it may offer multiple benefits, some precautions should be taken when ingesting this supplement.

In this article, we will discuss the different types of MCTs, how they are broken down in the body, and what are the possible benefits and risks of taking MCT oil.

What is MCT oil?

MCT stands for medium-chain triglyceride. MCT oil is a dietary supplement.

Triglycerides are fat (lipid) molecules that circulate in the blood and serve several purposes in the body. These fats come from fatty foods like butter and oils and from internal stores in the fat tissue.

Fatty acids are stored as triglycerides in the fat cells of the body and are released as necessary to provide energy to the body. Stored triglycerides also help insulate the organs in the body.

Triglycerides are composed of a glycerol molecule bound to three fatty acids. The name 'triglyceride' comes from this structure: 'tri-' refers to the three fatty acids, and 'glyceride' refers to the glycerol backbone.

The fatty acids in triglycerides can vary in length, which affects their classification and properties:

  • Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These fatty acids have fewer than six carbon atoms. SCFAs are primarily produced in the gut by bacterial fermentation of dietary fiber.
  • Medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs). These fatty acids contain 6–12 carbon atoms.
  • Long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs). These fatty acids have between 13 and 21 carbon atoms. Most dietary fats are composed of long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), which are metabolized more slowly and require bile salts for digestion, as opposed to MCTs, which bypass the usual digestive process.

Once in the liver, MCFAs from triglycerides are converted into ketones, which the body can then use as a quick energy source for muscles and organs or as fuel for the brain.

Ketones are substances naturally produced by the body when there is not enough glucose (sugar) available, so the body starts burning fat for energy instead.

This is why MCT oil has become a popular supplement, particularly in health and fitness circles.

How many types of MCT oil are there?

There are four types of medium-chain fatty acids that make up MCT oil, each differing by the number of carbon atoms in their structure:

  • Hexanoic acid. Also known as capronic acid, it has six carbon atoms.
  • Octanoid acid. Also known as caprylic acid, it has eight carbon atoms.
  • Decanoic acid. Also known as capric acid, it has 10 carbon atoms.
  • Dodecanoic acid. Also known as lauric acid, it has 12 carbon atoms.

Standard MCT oils are often extracted from coconut oil and are a mixture of mostly caprylic acid and capric acid. However, some manufacturers have recently started producing MCT oils rich in lauric acid as well.

What are the possible benefits of MCT oil?

Multiple benefits have been attributed to MCTs, and many studies have shown positive results. However, research is still ongoing, and more studies are necessary to confirm previous results.

Furthermore, while MCT oil can be used as a supplement to get certain health benefits, it cannot be used to prevent or treat any disease or condition, and it is not a replacement for medical treatment.

Talk to your healthcare provider to make sure MCT oil may be adequate for you.

At present, the possible health benefits that have been attributed to MCT oil include:

1. Energy boost and improved muscle strength

Since MCTs are rapidly absorbed and metabolized in the body, they provide a good and fast source of energy.

In this regard, based on a study performed on mice, researchers have hypothesized that MCT oil may be used to improve endurance during exercise.

However, later data from a systematic review of human studies concluded there is not enough evidence to fully support this statement and that more studies are necessary to draw definite conclusions.

On the other hand, multiple studies found that the intake of MCT oil in healthy middle-aged and older adults could help prevent age-related muscle wasting (sarcopenia), and when paired with aerobic exercise (walking), it may help increase muscle strength.

So, even though further research is warranted, MCT oil has shown promising results in enhancing physical performance, which could be particularly helpful for athletes looking to improve their performance during workouts.

2. May help maintain a healthy weight

MCFAs from MCT oil are quickly absorbed and transported to the liver, where they are used to produce energy to fuel the muscles and organs of the body. Since they are rapidly absorbed and metabolized, they are less likely to be stored in fatty tissues.

This means that using MCT oil along with a proper diet and exercise may aid in weight loss.

MCTs may also help reduce body weight, fat mass, waist circumference, and hip circumference and improve body composition by down-regulating certain genes and pathways related to energy metabolism.

Furthermore, MCT oil might induce satiety, which may help avoid excessive food intake and potentially reduce overall daily calorie consumption. This effect may support weight loss efforts and may serve as a tool to help manage obesity.

3. May help regulate blood sugar levels

A 2019 study performed in rats found that when compared with an LCT diet, long-term intake of an MCT diet decreased body weight, fat mass gain, and insulin resistance.

Insulin is the glucose-regulating hormone that is released by the pancreas in response to high sugar levels in the blood.

A 2007 study performed in China on individuals with overweight and type 2 diabetes found that MCT oil not only induced weight reduction but also improved insulin resistance in the participants.

While MCT oil may show promise as an option to aid in the control of blood sugar levels and insulin resistance, more studies are needed to fully determine its potential benefits and determine whether it might aid in the management of diabetes.

4. May protect the brain

Several studies have focused on the benefits MCTs may have on the brain.

The intake of MCT oil has been associated with improved cognitive function, memory, language, and processing speed in healthy young and older adults and also in older adults with certain neurological diseases.

Since the metabolism of glucose in the brain can be impaired in certain neurodegenerative disorders, the use of ketones as an alternative source of energy has been proposed to help provide fuel for the brain.

In this regard, research has been carried out to investigate the effects of MCT oil on several neurological disorders and conditions. The findings of these studies suggest that MCT oil may be beneficial in addressing some neurologic symptoms. However, more data is necessary to draw definite conclusions.

5. May improve digestive health and support nutrition

MCFA-containing triglycerides are digested into fatty acids, monoglycerides, or diglycerides, absorbed by the cells of the digestive tract, and transported into the bloodstream. The MCFAs are then transported directly to the liver via the portal vein, where they are rapidly metabolized and made available as a quick energy source.

Since they bypass the normal digestive process that LCFAs need to go through, they might be a great option for people lacking some digestive enzymes and those suffering from digestive issues — like fat malabsorption — that prevent them from absorbing LCFAs adequately.

Therefore, MCT oil has been used in the medical field to help meet the nutritional needs of people with gastrointestinal disorders and help support nutrition in people with caloric deficits.

Recent research has also suggested that MCTs may improve the gut microbiome, which comprises the ecosystem of both helpful and potentially harmful microorganisms that live and keep a balance in the digestive tract.

The importance of this finding is that MCTs may potentially be used to help manage some disorders and even aid in diarrheal diseases. However, more research is necessary to confirm this result.

What are the potential side effects and risks of MCT oil?

The use of MCTs in food products was granted GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Studies have reported no adverse events when taking MCT oil at the recommended dosage. Clinical trials have concluded that doses up to 1 g/kg body weight/day may be safe.

However, when taking large amounts of MCT oil, mild gastrointestinal side effects may appear, including stomach pain or discomfort, bloating, nausea, vomiting, and loose stools.

While rare, some individuals might be allergic to coconut oil or palm kernel oil, from which MCT oil is commonly derived. Allergic reactions can include symptoms such as itching, rash, and, in severe cases, anaphylaxis.

Additionally, since MCTs have approximately 7 kcal/g, overconsumption of MCT oil may lead to an increase in overall calorie intake, potentially resulting in weight gain if not balanced with proper diet adjustments and physical activity.

It is also important to mention that MCT oil lacks several essential fatty acids necessary for many cellular processes in the body, therefore, it is not recommended to consume fats from MCT oil only.

People with diabetes and liver problems should always consult with a healthcare practitioner before taking MCT oil.

Is MCT oil effective?

The effectiveness of MCT oil supplementation is not yet fully established due to a lack of comprehensive clinical trials with large sample sizes. Consequently, the impacts of MCT oil can vary significantly depending on the specific health goals and individual responses.

Overall, MCT oil might offer several health benefits, including potential support for weight loss, enhanced cognitive function, increased energy, improved gut health, and the potential to reduce blood sugar levels.

However, research on the effectiveness of MCT oil and its possible benefits and risks is still ongoing. So, until more data is available, check with your healthcare provider to see if MCT oil is appropriate for you.

Are there alternatives to MCT oil?

There are many alternatives to MCT oil because MCTs can be found in natural sources like coconut, palm kernel oil, milk, and milk derivatives (e.g., cheese and butter).

The main MCFA in coconut oil is lauric acid, which comprises around 50% of its total fat content, therefore, coconut oil might be a good natural source of MCTs.

However, a study comparing the effects of MCT oil versus coconut oil found that the latter induced lower satiety levels.

So, getting MCTs from coconut oil or other natural sources might not reproduce the same effects that commercial MCT oil may induce in the body.

How to choose the best MCT oil product?

Before purchasing any of MCT oil products:

  • Ensure they are derived from high-quality, organic coconuts without fillers or additives.
  • Look for oils containing primarily C8 (caprylic acid) and C10 (capric acid) medium-chain fatty acids for health benefits, as most research studies focus on these types. It is also advised to opt for products that are extracted using chemical-free methods like cold-pressing.
  • Additionally, check for certifications such as USDA Organic, Non-GMO, and third-party testing to verify quality and safety. If the product has the Clean Label Project certification, it also indicates that the brand meets high standards.
  • Choose brands that provide clear information about their sourcing, extraction, and testing processes, and read customer reviews to evaluate satisfaction levels.
  • Consider the price in relation to the quality and quantity of the oil, and ensure it is packaged in a way that preserves its quality, such as in dark or opaque packages or bottles to protect it from light exposure.

📝Healthnews editor's top picks

If you're considering MCT oil, our dedicated article might offer valuable insights. Explore some of the leading MCT oil products on the market, tailored to potentially address various health needs such as improved energy levels, enhanced cognitive function, and better weight management.

Performance Lab® MCT Energy Oil
  • Organic and non-GMO coconut
  • Third-party tested
  • C8 and C10 MCT
  • Neutral flavor
  • No unnecessary additives

What we loved the most about MCT Oil by Performance Lab is its high quality and sustainability, as it is made from organic, non-GMO coconuts. Certified by the Clean Label Project and tested by an independent laboratory, MCT Energy Oil stands out as our top choice. The only downside is that accurately measuring portion sizes can be challenging.

Bulletproof Brain MCT Oil
  • Made from coconuts
  • C8 MCT
  • Neutral flavor
  • 3 different bottle sizes

What we appreciated the most about Bulletproof is the ease of use of the product. As customers have noted too, the oil is easy to mix into beverages and does not have a distinct or unappealing taste. However the downside of this product is the absence of information regarding third-party testing for this specific MCT oil on the product’s page.

BrainMD Health Brain MCT Energy
  • Made from organic coconuts
  • Non-GMO
  • C8 and C10 MCT
  • Unflavored

We valued BrainMD's commitment to producing their products in cGMP-certified facilities. Their MCT oil stands out for its flavorlessness, and compatibility with coffee, smoothies, and other low-carb drinks. However, a drawback was that some customers experienced side effects like upset stomach.

Sports Research Organic MCT Oil from organic coconuts
  • Organic and non-GMO coconut
  • Third-party tested
  • C8, C10, C12 MCT
  • Neutral flavor

We appreciate that Sports Research offers an MCT oil made from organic and non-GMO coconuts, which demonstrates their commitment to sustainability. This product has garnered over 24,000 reviews on Amazon with an impressive average rating of 4.7 stars out of 5, a testament to its popularity. However, it's worth noting that some customers have reported potential side effects like diarrhea and upset stomach.

Onnit MCT Oil
  • Made from coconuts
  • Non-GMO
  • C8, C10, C12 MCT
  • Unflavored

We appreciate that Onnit's MCT oil is highly regarded for its versatility in coffee, smoothies, and other beverages due to its neutral flavor and excellent mixing qualities, as noted in reviews. Users have also highlighted its effectiveness as a pre-workout supplement for sustained energy. However, a downside mentioned by users is the packaging issue, with some noting that the cap may not be leak-proof.

Research advances on MCT oil

As research continues, new evidence is being found on the possible benefits and applications of MCT oil across multiple areas of health and wellness:

MCT oil and a ketogenic diet

In recent times, MCT oil has become increasingly popular to boost ketogenesis in people following a ketogenic diet.

The ketogenic — also known as keto — diet is based on eating high-fat, normal-protein, low-carbohydrate meals to force the body to burn fat instead of glucose for energy.

This diet has been used for decades to help control seizures in people who have epilepsy. In recent years, the interest in this diet for its potential benefits in seizure management has grown.

So, MCT oil may prove to be beneficial to support the health effects of a ketogenic diet.

MCT oil and blood lipids

Some people may be hesitant to add MCT oil to their diet because of the effects this supplement may have on their blood lipid levels.

During a systematic review of several studies published in 2021, researchers found that MCT oil did not induce an increase in blood lipids, namely total cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol, and LDL-cholesterol levels. However, it did produce a small increase in triglycerides.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that a previous study comparing sunflower oil to MCT oil found that the latter increased the levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, which could potentially increase the risk of heart disease.

So, results in this subject have not been consistent across all studies, and more research is necessary to determine the short-term and long-term effects of MCT oil supplementation in blood lipids.

MCT oil as an alternative for cooking

MCT oil can be used as a salad dressing, it can be added to warm beverages like tea or coffee, and it can also be blended with fruits to make smoothies or protein shakes.

However, standard MCT oil should not be used for cooking. This oil has a low smoking point, meaning the temperature at which triglycerides break down is lower, which can result in an undesirable flavor and the release of harmful byproducts.

Nevertheless, a study found that MCTs rich in lauric acid, like coconut oil, could be used to cook at moderate temperatures because their smoking point is higher.

Therefore, they might be suitable for home pan frying and sautéing foods, although more research is necessary to assess their safety for cooking.

MCT oil may potentially offer a range of health benefits, from boosting energy and supporting weight loss to enhancing cognitive function and gut health. Its rapid absorption and conversion into ketones make it a versatile supplement for various health and fitness goals.

However, while MCT oil might have several health benefits, it is also important to be aware of potential risks and side effects associated with its use. You should always consult a healthcare professional before incorporating MCT oil into your diet, especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions.


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