Benefits and side effects of MCT oil, according to Science

You may have heard of MCT oil, a relatively new supplement that comes in the form of a colorless oil. MCT oil is not just a passing health trend, but a proven benefit for brain and gut health. MCT stands for medium-chain triglycerides, which are one of the easiest types of fat to digest and break down for fuel. In addition to fueling your body and brain, there are several other benefits of MCTs that you should know about, as well as possible side effects.

What are medium chain triglycerides?

When you think of triglycerides, you probably think of high cholesterol and heart disease. But triglycerides are a type of fat; in fact, they are the most abundant type of fat found in the body. There are short-chain, medium-chain, and long-chain triglycerides, and your body uses them all for fuel.

Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) are a tasteless oil isolated and extracted from coconuts and palm kernels. There are four types of MCTs, known as C6, C8, C10, and C12. These represent the different fatty acids that contain a carbon chain of average length of 6 to 12 atoms. You can take MCT oil daily, but you may experience side effects when you first start taking it.

Coconut MCT Oil

Benefits of medium chain triglycerides

Research suggests that MCTs can improve mental clarity, help with weight management, lower cholesterol levels, and protect brain health.

Increases mental clarity

MCTs penetrate the blood-brain barrier, which controls molecules entering the brain. Because they don’t have to be broken down, MCTs provide an instant source of energy for the brain that’s healthier than glucose. In fact, MCTs do not have the same “brain fog” effect that often follows the consumption of sugary foods. If you’re trying to avoid simple carbohydrates, MCTs can keep your brain and body functioning while preventing sugar cravings.

Protects brain health

The brain’s ability to obtain energy from glucose declines with age, leading to neurodegeneration and cognitive impairment. MCT oil may protect memory and cognitive function as you age. It provides all the energy your brain cells need, and research suggests it can improve cognitive performance at any age.[1]

It reduces the risk of heart disease and promotes fat burning

Like many healthy fats, MCTs are good for the heart. They have been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and improve fat metabolism.[2]

Research shows that supplementing with MCT oil daily can melt 1.1 pounds every three weeks.[3] MCTs increase fat oxidation, which means you burn more calories at the same time. MCTs also induce thermogenesis, which causes you to expend more energy to release body heat.

Side effects and dosage of MCT oil

MCTs can cause side effects such as flatulence, diarrhea, stomach pain, and bloating. If you haven’t taken MCT oil before, just start with one teaspoon a day. Get no more than three to four teaspoons a day. If you have gastrointestinal problems such as cramps or nausea, reduce the dose.

How do you take MCT oil?

It’s easy to add MCT oil to your routine by putting it in your morning coffee, smoothie, cereal, yogurt, or oatmeal. You can even take it alone. MCT oil is tasteless, but has a greasy consistency.

MCT Oil Summary

You can find MCT oil in health food stores. The only ingredient listed for an MCT oil product should be 100% medium chain triglycerides. Some MCT supplements list the types of MCTs in the ingredients, such as C8 or C12. According to research, C6, C8 and C10 provide the most benefits.[4] Keep in mind that MCT oil is a source of calories and not a magic weight loss pill. You still need to exercise and burn more calories than you expend to lose weight.

References:

  1. “The effects of medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) supplementation using a C8:C10 30:70 Ratio on Cognitive Performance in Healthy Young Adults” by Jake S. Ashton, James W. Roberts, Caroline J. Wakefield, Richard M. Page, Don PM MacLaren, Simon Marwood, and James J. Malone, November 18 of 2020, Physiology and behavior.
    DOI: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2020.113252
  2. “Medium Chain Triglyceride (MCT) Oil Affects Immunophenotype by Reprogramming Mitochondrial Respiration in Murine Macrophages” By Seungmin Yu, Gwang-woong Go, and Wooki Kim, 5 Nov 2019 foods.
    DOI: 10.3390/foods8110553
  3. “Effects of medium-chain triglycerides on weight loss and body composition: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials” by Karen Mumme, PGDipSc and Welma Stonehouse, PhD, 1 Feb 2015, Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jand.2014.10.022
  4. “Medium Chain Triglycerides and Health” by Volpe, Stella Lucia Ph.D., RDN, FACSM, ACSM-CEP, 2020, ACSM Health and Fitness Journal.
    DOI: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000537

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