nutrition

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What are the Benefits of MCT Oil? The Science Made Simple

MCT oil has become a very popular supplement and it’s time to talk about why exactly that is the case

MCT stands for medium-chain triglyceride. MCTs come from a variety of sources, such as coconut oil or palm kernel oil. Put simply, triglycerides are a type of fat that exists in your blood. Triglycerides are made up of a chemical chain (structure), which can vary in length. However, MCTs contain a chain of carbon atoms that is “medium” in size (often 6-12 carbons in length). The shorter chain of MCTs is what leads to its various benefits.

Top 8 MCT Oil Benefits

Given the explosion in popularity with MCT oil, there are a lot of health claims connected to it. Let’s take a look at what these are and what the research tells us.

1. Weight & appetite management

Supporting a healthy weight can be a challenge for many reasons. Foods or supplements that claim to assist with weight management tend to attract attention. Researchers have studied MCT oil for weight support and appetite impacts. When it comes to satiety and appetite suppression, a study involving 19 healthy people found that MCT oil led to an increase in feelings of satiety. The participants consumed morning beverages enriched with MCT oil, CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), or regular vegetable oil. Both MCT oil and CLA led to less intake of food throughout the day, increasing overall feelings of satiety. This led to a reduced food intake, suggesting that they might play a role in maintaining energy balance. While these findings are promising, larger, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies are needed to repeat the results.

In further studies, MCT oil still seems to stand out against other oils. For instance, in a separate trial, participants drank breakfast smoothies containing either coconut oil, MCT oil, or vegetable oil on three different days. The results showed that MCT oil reduced food intake more than the other two. Interestingly, both coconut and MCT oil reduced energy and fat intake throughout the day. Also, MCT oil led to more feelings of fullness up to three hours after breakfast compared to the other two. And, as an added bonus, many found MCT oil to be more palatable than coconut oil.

Another study found that MCT did not impact satiety, but did increase energy expenditure. This could still have potential benefits for energy use and metabolic health. Overall, larger trials are needed to validate and confirm the positive results associated with MCT oil.

2. Energy support

Remember, MCTs are simply a type of fat and our bodies use fats for many purposes, one of which is as an energy source. MCTs may offer energy benefits because of their short chain length. The short length of the fatty acid chains provides the body with a faster energy source than other fats because it doesn’t require as much of a conversion process. Studies haven’t shown directly how much energy results from MCT oil use, but it is indeed a functional food of interest for future research.

That said, there has been conflicting evidence. A review of 13 human trials found little to no benefit of MCT oil in boosting energy use during exercise. Ultimately, MCT oil can provide metabolic energy support due to its unique molecular structure, but its efficacy in boosting energy during exercise still requires additional research.

3. Lactate support

When the body faces reduced oxygen levels, it enters a state of anaerobic activity. A consequence of this type of activity is the production of lactate in the muscles. Elevated levels of lactate along with loss of electrolytes may lead to fatigue, cramps, and muscle discomfort. Some older evidence supports the use of MCT oil for lactate management. Recent research has not found that MCT oil impacts lactate. It may lead to increases in ketones, but not in a way that serves as fuel for intensive activity or to reduce lactic acid buildup. More research is needed.

4. Cognitive function Support

MCT oil is gaining attention in the world of cognitive health. A systematic review and meta-analysis of 16 studies found that MCT oil supports increased brain energy metabolism. Further research is needed to know whether this translates to improved cognition.

Research in older adults has found that MCT oil is associated with positive effects on cognition, although the specific mechanism is not clear. Another study in older adults found that MCT oil supported healthy mobility and balance with no noted changes to cognition. Another study found that both muscle mass and cognition were found to be enhanced in older adults who took 6 grams of MCT oil daily for six weeks. Larger clinical trials are needed to further understand how MCT oil impacts cognition in all age groups, as well as the specific reasons behind the potential benefits.

5. Supports ketosis

MCT oil can provide support for those following a ketogenic diet. Unlike other oils, MCT oil can be directly utilized for energy, bypassing the need for additional liver metabolism during ketone conversion. This makes it a faster source of energy compared to other types of fats.

6. Encourages gut health

When it comes to MCT oil and gut health, there is still very little research. But an important finding is how MCT oil may be able to increase an important compound for gut homeostasis known as beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB). BHB supports a healthy intestinal environment, including immune system cellular responses.

In a study of 19 healthy people, it was found that BHB was increased in the plasma at 60 minutes after ingestion of MCT oil. This effect is likely associated with MCT oil’s impact on delayed gastric emptying.

7. Enhanced athletic performance

There is conflicting evidence regarding how MCT oil affects athletic performance. While animal studies have demonstrated benefits for physical performance, a systematic review of human research in athletes did not find evidence for MCT oil and improved performance. It noted that ketones may increase, but not in a way that impacted or improved energy use during training sessions. A study of older adults found that participants experienced improvements in muscle strength when MCT oil was paired with leucine and vitamin D.

8. Improved fat oxidation

Fat oxidation refers to the metabolic process where the fat in the body is broken down to provide fuel for energy. Some findings suggest that MCTs can increase resting energy expenditure, which theoretically might lead to increased fat burning. However, one study found no significant difference in burning fat for energy when comparing MCT oil versus carbohydrates.

Other research found that MCT oil could lead to increased fat burning in healthy people born male, but the same was not noted in those born female. Despite these various findings, the majority of research shows no changes to fat oxidation or use as energy.

Other questions about MCT oil

Where does MCT oil come from?

If you are interested in trying MCT oil, you can rely on two sources. First, there are several whole food products that contain MCTs. As an alternative, a dietary supplement may be ideal for some people.

As for food sources, coconut oil and palm kernel oil are both rich in MCTs, as well as easy to find and incorporate into your diet.

If you are not interested in relying on whole foods, you can also try an MCT oil supplement. A supplement may be beneficial for its ease of use and its strict composition, which won’t likely include many (or any) additional ingredients beyond MCTs. Whole foods provide additional healthy nutrients and natural components (e.g. long chain triglycerides), since no food contains MCTs purely.

If you are interested in getting some additional MCTs into your routine, you may also want to consider a product that incorporates MCT oil into it. These products go beyond a pure MCT oil supplement since they contain MCT oil among other ingredients. For example, a protein powder made with MCT oil can incorporate the benefits of MCTs into a versatile supplement. The combination of MCTs and protein powder is popular because MCTs are easily digested and provide an alternative energy source to the protein.

How does MCT oil work?

Now, even if you don’t have a great interest in chemical structures, it’s still important to know what MCTs are. Unlike triglycerides, which are composed of long fatty acid chains, MCTs have shorter chains. This allows them to be easily digested and the body can rely on them for energy more quickly.

How do I use MCT oil?

If you are interested in adding MCT oil to your regimen, you can consider taking an MCT oil supplement. Those supplements normally contain isolated MCT oil. But that is not the only option. Given the fact that most people are also interested in taking a protein supplement, you may want to find a product that combines both MCT and protein into one product.

A high-quality protein powder made with MCT oil may be the perfect solution for you. These products are available in flavors such as vanilla and chocolate, which make daily consumption an easy task. Do you follow a plant-based diet? Not to worry, these products are also available in vegan-and vegetarian-friendly formulations.

How much MCT oil should I take?

The optimal dosage of MCT oil differs from person to person. Make sure to follow the usage directions for any form of MCT oil you take — whether that's oil or a protein powder. Always check with your doctor if you have questions or before starting supplements. It’s easy to mix pure MCT oil in with food (e.g. on salad) or into beverages (e.g. smoothie).

If you are getting your MCT oil from a separate supplement, such as a protein powder, then you will want to stick with that product’s dosing recommendation. For example, a protein powder may come with a recommendation of one serving daily.

The Bottom Line

MCT, which stands for medium-chain triglycerides, is a type of fat derived from natural sources that provides a plethora of benefits. MCT oil has gained popularity as a supplement because it condenses these triglycerides into a potent and easily consumable form. The most prominent benefit of MCT oil is its ability to aid in weight management by promoting feelings of satiety. Additionally, it shows promise for being a quick energy source, promoting cognitive function, maintaining gut health, and supporting ketosis. MCT oil can be found in foods like coconut oil and palm kernel oil or can be purchased as a dietary supplement. You can find MCT oil in standalone supplements, or it may be included with other beneficial ingredients, like protein powders.

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