In recent years there’s been increasing interest in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), particularly among people involved in athletics. One reason for the surging popularity of MCTs is the rising popularity of coconut oil, which is a rich source of MCTs and a provider of numerous other health benefits. Some proponents of MCTs have claimed that MCTs can support weight loss. In this article, we’ll evaluate this claim and tell you everything you need to know about MCTs.
Let’s put medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in context. First, you probably know about fatty acids, which play an important role in many of your body’s key functions. The two best-known fatty acids are omega-3s and omega-6s, and your body can’t produce them naturally; you have to consume them through diet and supplements.
More often than not, fatty acid molecules are joined in groups of three (a.k.a. triglycerides). Most triglycerides have 12 or more carbon atoms in their chain and are called “long-chain triglycerides” (LCTs). But some triglycerides only have 6-12 carbons attached; hence the term medium-chain triglycerides. (There are also short-chain triglycerides, which have fewer than 6 carbons.)
That all sounds pretty technical, but it’s really not. Your body’s got triglycerides – a fancy term for fats – and they’re linked in chains of varying length. The ones that are medium length are MCTs. The main medium-chain fatty acids are: C6 (caproic acid or hexanoic acid), C8 (caprylic acid or octanoic acid), C10 (capric acid or decanoic acid), C12 (lauric acid or dodecanoic acid).
MCTs are found naturally in coconut oil, palm oil, milk fat, and butter; synthetic versions are also available.
Well, for one thing, they’re shorter. What does that mean in practice?
Being longer, LCTs take more time for the body to digest when consumed. MCTs, being shorter, don’t even need to be digested; instead, they can go right to the liver, where they can supply energy and serve other important functions.
MCT oil is made through a process of extracting MCTs from coconut or palm kernel oil; the process, which is known as fractionation, results in a highly concentrated form of MCTs.
Note: MCT oil and coconut oil are not the same thing. Coconut oil includes lauric acid and MCT does not.
The liver turns the carbohydrates in your diet into glucose (blood sugar), which in turn provides fuel for the body. When your body isn’t getting enough carbs, though, your liver’s job gets a bit harder. The metabolic state your body enters when all its glucose has been depleted is called ketosis. When that happens, your liver starts to produce another source of energy, known as ketones. Here’s where MCT oil can be helpful. As mentioned, MCTs go straight to your liver. When the liver breaks down MCTs, it produces ketones, thereby supporting your body’s energy levels while in a state of ketosis.
The keto diet is famously a low-carb diet that some people adopt to try to lose weight. How’s it work? Basically, you eat so few carbs that you keep your body in a state of ketosis, thus requiring your lever to produce ketones for energy. To do so, your liver has to burn stored body fat.
MCTs can support the keto diet because they help your liver produce more ketones. This can ensure that your body has enough energy to get through the day while keeping carb consumption low.
While the research has been mixed, there is solid evidence that MCTs can support weight loss when combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle. They seem to do so by increasing feelings of fullness, reducing the body’s fat storage, cutting the body’s calorie intake, and increasing energy expenditure during exercise.
This study showed that MCT intake increases fat oxidation, leaving less fat to be stored in the body; participants experienced weight loss over the course of a 4-week clinical trial.
Another study found that MCT supplementation reduced lactate levels in people engaged in high-intensity exercise.
Meanwhile, this study found that taking 15-30 g of MCT daily helped increase subjects’ energy expenditure.
When it comes to fat burning and calorie burning, MCTs have shown signs of promise.
A study comparing weight loss in two groups – one taking MCT oil and another taking olive oil – found that the MCT group saw greater reductions in body weight.
The type you should use varies from person to person. It all depends on your particular ambitions and desired dosage. It may be best to consult with a medical professional to determine the right type and dosage for you.
If your goal is simply to improve your overall health, you are probably safe simply using coconut oil in your cooking. If you determine that higher doses are needed, then a MCT oil is the route to choose. Fortunately, MCT oil has only the subtlest taste or small, making it easy to mix into various foods and drinks.
Since the research is there to support the use of MCT oil for weight, you may now be wondering about the best way to use it. Some MCT proponents who are also on the keto diet add MCT oil to their black coffee. Others add MCT oil to smoothies.
MCTs are available as salad dressing oil, and can be added to yogurt, shakes, and smoothies. They’re also available as powders and softgels.
The safety and toxicity levels of MCTs is not well-researched in human subjects. Some studies have had subjects take 18-24 grams of MCT oil without any side effects. Some recommend that you take a tablespoon of MCT oil before working out. If you experience digestive discomfort from your dosage, you can always start with a lower dose and work your way up. Talk to a medical professional about what’s right for you.
If you’re adding your MCT oil to a smoothie or your coffee, it can be wise to take it in the morning. This can also help you boost your energy levels as you start your day.
Since some use MCT oil for instant energy, some people will take it about 15-20 minutes before exercising. Typically one tablespoon will do the trick, but if you experience any digestive discomfort, you can go to a lower dose and slowly build up over time.
There’s solid research to suggest that MCT oil can support weight loss when incorporated into a healthy diet and lifestyle. It does so by helping with fat burning, increasing energy expenditure, and boosting feelings of satiety. Of course, there’s no single cure-all when it comes to healthy weight management. Some healthy lifestyle adjustments can include getting enough sleep, eating a nutrient-rich diet, and exercising regularly.