Coconut oil was touted as the next superfood but it turns out coconut oil wasn’t the thing which deserved the spotlight. Instead, it’s what’s inside the coconut oil – MCTs that is most exciting to biohackers and health and fitness experts.
What is MCT Oil? MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) are medium-chain fatty acids. In oil form, that’s normally extracted from coconuts and other natural sources, they are used as a dietary supplement because of the beneficial properties that help weight loss, reduce the risk of heart disease and improved brain function, as well as other things. People often add MCT oil to smoothies or coffee and use it as a salad dressing too.
Read on and you’ll find out all about MCT Oil, what it does, and why you should be consuming it every day.
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How The Body Consumes MCT
MCTs (medium chain triglycerides) are medium chain fatty acids. In comparison to longer-chain fats, MCTs are absorbed more easily by your body as there is less work to do in breaking apart carbon bonds which make them up.
As they don’t require special enzymes to be digested – like long-chain triglycerides – they are absorbed through the gut, straight into the bloodstream and into the liver.
Here, they have a thermogenic effect, positively affecting your metabolic rate. They are burned by the body for energy instead of being stored as fat.
Where MCT Comes From
MCT oil is a supplement so can be purchased and added to food after cooking or when making your meals. Or, it can be found in these:
- coconut oil
- palm oil
- whole milk (from grass-fed cows)
- butter (from grass-fed cows)
- cheese (from grass-fed cows)
It is colourless and odourless so can be added to anything without the stress of changing the flavour or the look of your masterpiece. This makes it a great addition to any meal for some quick, easy energy boosting, and brain-boosting benefits (which we will get further into) along with aiding in weight loss.
So what actually are MCTs and how do they work? What’s the science behind them and why should you be adding them to your meals? All good questions, and we will get onto them in this next section.
How MCTs Work
MCTs are a form of saturated fat. Now, I know, you’ll be used to hearing saturated fats are harmful to you, but, research suggests these fats should actually be consumed every day and can have a variety of benefits to your health and in weight loss.
MCTs are smaller than LCTs, so they penetrate cell membranes easier and don’t require special enzymes to use them, which is why they are absorbed through the gut, straight into the bloodstream and into the liver.
MCTs kickstart the process of ketosis, something that is key to the very popular Keto diet. This is the process of your body using ketones (which come from the breakdown of fat) as an energy source as opposed to using blood sugar (glucose) for energy.
Reducing the need for higher blood sugar, which can help you lose weight, and reduce damage to your arteries from this higher blood sugar.
MCTs have between 6-12 chains of carbons. The shorter the carbon chain, the more efficiently the MCT will be turned into ketones for energy.
Studies show more energy expenditure along with less weight gain and decreased fat storage after months of consuming MCTs.
MCT Oil Benefits
The scientifically proven benefits of MCT oil include:
- Weight loss
- Increased metabolic rate (good for weight loss)
- Increased exercise endurance
- Hearth Health
- Brain Health
- Managing Blood Sugar Levels / Diabetes
Other suggested benefits include MCT helping reduce yeast, fungus and bacteria growth that’s useful when preventing and fighting infectious diseases, but at this stage, these findings are limited to lab work, not daily life applications.
There an abundance of studies suggesting that MCT oil aids in weight loss due to various processes in the body.
Whether increasing the feeling of fullness through the increase in the release of two hormones peptide YY and leptin or, as one study found, a lower rise in triglycerides and glucose with the consumption of MCT oil.
The same study also found that people who had two tablespoons of MCT oil with their breakfast ate less food for lunch in comparison to those who had coconut oil.
Or, as another study suggests, through increased energy expenditure which leads to increased calorie burning and greater loss of subcutaneous adipose tissue.
Or through the process of ketosis previously explained, MCT oil aids in weight loss in a variety of ways.
Metabolism and exercise endurance
A 2018 study suggests that MCTs enhance exercise endurance and increase metabolism. Increased metabolism is a benefit as having a faster metabolism means your body burns calories at a higher rate, therefore you have to eat more to maintain or gain weight.
Increased exercise endurance is also a benefit of MCT because it helps reduce lactic acid buildup and it’s an instant energy source, as the study shows.
Not just from the potential weight loss, MCT can also help in keeping a healthy heart by reducing heart disease risk factors such as cholesterol.
A study found taking MCT oil combined with phytosterols and flaxseed oil for 29 days had reduced total cholesterol by 12.5% in overweight men and a reduction in bad cholesterol (LDL) while producing more of the ‘good’, heart-protecting (HDL) cholesterol.
Studies have shown MCTs can help in managing the following conditions:
For epilepsy, a study on rats showed MCTs blocking receptors in the brain which cause seizures. More human studies are required on this, however.
For Alzheimer’s, promising studies are taking place however, again, more are needed. Although, one which has taken place has shown that MCT blocks a receptor in the which causes memory loss. Alzheimer’s disease makes it difficult for the brain to use sugar.
As MCT keto diets offer up different energy sources – ketones – this allows brain cells to survive better than they usually would.
Autism is a spectrum disorder, so it affects people in varying ways depending on how far along the spectrum they are. A 2003 study found MCT to have positive effects on autistic children.
A 2018 study found that 6 of 15 autistic children involved had improved behaviour after being put on a keto diet. The study further suggests that the ketogenic diet “warrants further investigation as a treatment of the core features of autism”.
Helping in managing diabetes
Another study found that when consuming MCTs as opposed to LCTs people with diabetes who were injected with insulin needed 30% less sugar to maintain normal blood sugar levels.
Could lead to an increase in food intake due to feeling fuller for less time
Although MCTs can increase the release of hormones, which help you to feel fuller for longer, some studies suggest they can also increase the rate of release for hunger hormones.
In a 2017 study of anorexic people, the ones who consumed more grams of MCT produced more of two hormones: ghrelin and neuropeptide Y, both increase appetite.
Although, it is not known if the increase in production of these hormones does actually make you eat more.
Excessive consumption could lead to fat buildup in the liver
One study including mice found that a diet where 50% of the fats were MCTs increased liver fat.
50% of the fats in your diet being MCTs is not recommended and, as stated, is excessive.
However, it is certainly something to keep in mind as more research is needed on the long-term effects of MCTs.
First of all, don’t cook with MCTs as they have a low smoke point and their chemical structures change when being cooked.
Start by adding a tablespoon to your morning tea or coffee or whatever you have for breakfast. Then, build up to two or three tablespoons a day, adding it to lunch and then dinner, on top of breakfast.
Studies mostly show MCTs to have positive health benefits, with few and quite insignificant risks to consuming them.
Adding MCT oil to your meals can help in weight loss, keeping your brain and heart healthy, and increasing your metabolism.
The inclusion of a colourless, odourless and flavourless oil to any of your meals is a brilliant way to take advantage of the potential health benefits that MCTs provide.