Recently there’s been a lot of hype surrounding MCT oil.
Some claim it to be a miracle supplement that offers many health benefits.
But what exactly is MCT oil, and is there any evidence to support these testimonials?
Here, we look at the reported benefits of MCT oil and whether or not you should be taking it.
What is MCT Oil?
MCT oil is a supplement that’s made from medium-chain triglycerides MCTs.
MCTs are a type of saturated fatty acid. Like all triglycerides, they are made up of three fatty acids attached to a glycerol backbone.
What sets them apart structurally is the length of the fatty acid chain. MCTs have 6 to 12 carbons per fatty acid. Coconut oil, palm kernel oil and dairy products are all naturally high in MCTs.
MCT oil itself is man-made through a process called fractionation, in which an oil is gradually cooled until it forms both liquid and solid portions.
Meanwhile, long-chain fatty acids are longer than 12 carbons and are found in nuts, seeds, oils and fatty fish. Short-chain fatty acids are shorter than 6 carbons. Most are byproducts from the breakdown of prebiotic fiber in the gut, when bacteria in the colon feed on them.
MCTs can also travel straight to the liver to be metabolized, where long-chain fatty acids must be repackaged into different types of fats before being processed by the liver. This means they are less likely to be stored as fat in the body.
However, at least one study suggests that MCTs can be absorbed in the same way as long-chain fatty acids if you eat a lot of them 3.
Is MCT Oil the Same as Coconut Oil?
Coconuts are one of the most abundant dietary sources of MCTs. It makes sense that many people think coconut oil and MCT oil are one in the same.
But the main difference comes in the amount of MCTs in the product. MCT oil is made mostly or entirely of MCTs, whereas coconut oil is about 55% MCTs.
Because it’s not made entirely of MCTs, coconut oil may not have the same reported benefits as MCT oil. However, the other fats in coconut oil have modest antioxidant benefits and may boost HDL “good” cholesterol, benefits you wouldn’t get from pure MCT oil.
Summary: MCT oil is a supplement made from medium-chain triglycerides MCTs. MCTs are metabolized directly in the liver and don’t require bile or pancreatic enzymes for digestion. Unlike coconut oil, which contains about 55% MCTs, pure MCT oil is made entirely of MCTs.
How to Use MCT Oil ?
There are various forms of MCT oil, including liquid, capsule and powder versions.
Types of MCT Oil
The best type of MCT oil mostly depends on personal preference. For example, some people like the portability and convenience of MCT powder, but find that the powders can be more expensive or contain more additives than the liquid oil.
Bulletproof Coffee has become a popular way to take MCT oil.
It’s a breakfast meal replacement drink that’s made by blending 1-2 tablespoons of grass-fed butter and 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons of MCT oil into 8-12 ounces 235-355 milliliters of black coffee.
Proponents of Bulletproof Coffee say that it reduces cravings, boosts energy and burns fat. However, no formal studies have looked at Bulletproof Coffee specifically.
From a nutritional standpoint, one cup of Bulletproof Coffee may contain up to 52 grams of fat and 465 calories. This is a lot of fat to start off your day, particularly if your fat intake continues to be moderate or high throughout the rest of the day.
If you decide to try MCT oil, we’d recommend limiting yourself to no more than 2 tablespoons per day, and only to replace other fats. There’s no need to add butter on top of that MCT oil.
Summary: MCT oil comes in liquid, capsule or powder form. MCT powder may be more portable and convenient than the liquid version, but also tends to have more additives. Bulletproof Coffee is also a popular way to take MCT oil .
Reported Benefits of MCT Oil
MCT oil has become extremely popular as a supplement to help with weight loss and certain chronic health conditions.
Let’s take a look at some of its more popular claims.
MCT oil has been heralded by some online sources as a weight loss miracle.
You’ve probably heard of ketones in relation to the trendy ketogenic “keto” diet.
The keto diet has actually been used for decades in children with epilepsy, as it can cut the number of their seizures by up to half (7).
Because MCTs can be broken down into ketones more easily than long-chain triglycerides, MCT oil has been used to treat some patients with severe epilepsy.
In the 1970s, a physician developed an updated version of the keto diet. Known as the MCT Ketogenic Diet, this version obtained a higher percentage of fats in the form of MCT oil.
The recommended percentage of calories from MCT oil has changed over the years, ranging from 30-60%. The idea is to bring on nutritional ketosis without strictly limiting carbohydrates and protein.
One study of children with severe epilepsy found that classical ketogenic and MCT ketogenic diets were comparable in terms of seizure reduction and tolerability. Other small studies have had similar findings (8, 9).
This suggests that MCT oil can help children with epilepsy reduce seizure frequency without such a restrictive diet.
Keep in mind that these diets are prescribed by a doctor and supervised by a dietitian. Neither a classical ketogenic or an MCT ketogenic diet should be tried at home without medical guidance.
The brain gets most of its energy from glucose, but in Alzheimer’s disease, it doesn’t use that glucose as effectively.
A medically supervised ketogenic diet has been reported to modestly boost cognitive function in those with Alzheimer’s, as ketones can be used as an alternative energy source for the brain. Supplementation with 20-70 grams per day of certain MCTs can help induce ketosis (10).
One clinical trial of 152 adults with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease found a specific preparation of MCT oil, consisting primarily of C8 fatty acids meaning it has 8 carbons, to induce ketosis.
The study also saw significant improvements in cognition among volunteers treated with MCT oil for 90 days (11).
Malabsorption is a problem that arises when the gastrointestinal tract fails to properly break down and absorb nutrients.
Sometimes it’s a short-term issue. Acute illness or medication use can cause temporary absorption issues that usually resolve on their own or with medical treatment.
Malabsorption can also stem from chronic illness, like pancreatic insufficiency, inflammatory bowel disease, short bowel syndrome or biliary cirrhosis.
MCTs are absorbed more quickly and easily than long-chain triglycerides. Because of this they can help with nutrient absorption and weight maintenance in some people with acute and chronic malabsorption.
In one small study, replacing long-chain triglycerides in the diet with MCTs reduced steatorrhea fatty diarrhea in patients with pancreatic insufficiency. However, there was very little difference between MCTs and long-chain triglycerides when the patients took supplemental pancreatic enzymes by mouth (12).
Clinical trials on MCTs have also shown promise in reducing diarrhea and gastrointestinal distress in critically ill patients receiving nutrition via feeding tube (13).
Summary: MCT oil is an effective and less restrictive alternative to a classical ketogenic diet for children with severe epilepsy. It’s also useful in certain chronic and critical conditions that cause malabsorption.
Are There Any side effects to MCT Oil?
MCT oil is generally well-tolerated in healthy people.
Some reports indicate that large doses of it may cause diarrhea and other gastrointestinal discomforts. However, you can lessen the chance of this by starting with a low dose and building up to a maximum of 2 tablespoons per day.
That doesn’t mean that MCT oil is best for everyone, though. The greatest benefits have been seen in people with chronic disease, like epilepsy or pancreatic insufficiency. Specifically, those who take MCT oil under medical supervision, often in combination with medications and or special diets.
If you’re considering trying MCT oil in hopes of losing weight, keep in mind that, as a fat, it’s still higher in calories than carbs or protein. While MCTs are lower in calories and less likely to be stored as fat than long-chain triglycerides, it’s still best not to overeat them.
Summary: MCT oil is generally well tolerated but could cause diarrhea or gastrointestinal distress in some people. While they’re less likely than long-chain triglycerides to be stored as fat, MCTs are still calorie dense, so it’s important not to overeat them, especially if your goal is to lose weight.
Should You Be Taking MCT Oil?
MCTs have been touted as a “weight-loss” miracle, mostly because they’re easy for the body to break down and absorb, and less likely to be stored as fat.
MCTs occur naturally in some foods however it’s become popular to supplement with man-made MCT oil.
MCT oil has been reported to support weight loss, brain healt, and nutrient absorption.
Still, there’s fairly strong evidence in support of MCTs in epilepsy and in certain conditions that can cause malabsorption, like pancreatic insufficiency.
Studies have also shown a potential modest benefit for those with Alzheimer’s disease.
On top of that, popular brands of MCT oil like Sharrets MCT oil cost around 3k for a 32 oz bottle.
This can certainly add up if you’re using 2 tablespoons 1 oz per day.
Overall, MCT oil isn’t likely to harm healthy adults who take it in small amounts.
If you do want to try adding MCTs into your diet, it’d be more affordable and nearly as effective to enjoy modest amounts of the natural version sourced from Coconut instead of Palm .
Please Note: This article is presented for informational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose or treat any illness. If you have any health concern, see a licensed healthcare professional in person.