MCT oil powder
What are Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs)?
All fats are made up of carbon and hydrogen atoms, the amounts of which dictates their structure and classification. MCTs are a type of saturated fat with very unique properties that set them apart from other saturated fats. Medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) are defined by fatty acid chain lengths of 6-12 carbons (C6, C8, C10, and C12), whereas short chain fatty acids have 5 or less and long chain fatty acids above 12. These MCFAs make up medium chain triglycerides: three MCFAs bound to one glycerol molecule.
MCTs as Functional Fats
What makes MCTs so unique is their ketogenic potential and thus therapeutic potential. Unlike other types of fats, MCTs do not require the enzymatic breakdown and packaging into lipoproteins (chylomicrons) for the transport from the intestine to other tissues. Rather, MCTs bypass these processes and are delivered directly to the liver from the intestine. Making things even simpler, MCTs do not require carnitine for oxidation and entry into the mitochondria. In this way, MCTs enter the metabolic pathways to produce ketone bodies rapidly and with ease, offering an immediate source of fuel.
Note: C8 - C10 has the highest conversion rate to ketone bodies.
MCTs are less likely to be stored as fat
Because of their differences in how they are metabolized, compared to long chain fatty acids, MCTs may offer some advantages when it comes to weight loss. They have been shown to increase thermogenesis and fat oxidation, both of which contribute to reduced accumulation of body fat. In fact, MCTs are so quickly metabolized and used directly as fuel that only ~2% has been shown to contribute to fat storage. Animal models have even shown that fat storage from overfeeding with MCTs compared to LCTs resulted in less body fat. In this way, they could have implications for weight loss.
MCTs allow for a less restrictive ketogenic diet
The rapid conversion of MCTs to ketone bodies offers many advantages, especially in regard to modulating carbohydrate restriction. Typically, a low-carbohydrate high-fat ketogenic diet requires carbohydrates to be severely restricted (~20-50g/day). However, the addition of MCTs promotes the production of ketones without such a drastic reduction in carbohydrates, and in this way act almost like an exogenous ketone. This offers better compliance to a ketogenic diet, and has particular relevance if you are required to be in a state of therapeutic ketosis for disease treatment and/or management.
MCTs as an Energy Source
As previously described, MCTs are quickly absorbed and processed by the liver providing a fast acting fuel source. Besides their role as a quick energy source, MCTs have been shown to enhance endurance exercise, making them a sustained energy source as well. And who doesn’t want a long-lasting boost in energy!?
MCTs for Neurological Disorders
MCTs role as an energy source feeds into their role in neurological disorders. Several researchers have demonstrated the neuroprotective effects of ketones. Ketones appear to be the preferred fuel source for the brain in neurological disorders related to insulin resistance such as Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, among others. In these diseases, neurons have a hard time utilizing glucose for fuel and the longer they are starved of energy, the more likely they are to die. Ketones however, offer an alternative fuel source to the brain. Research has shown the use of MCTs and even coconut oil as a way to provide energy to the brain when glucose metabolism is impaired, attributed to the induction of ketosis. Some evidence suggests that MCTs can cross the blood brain barrier and directly energize neurons too. In these cases, supplying the brain with these energy substrates bypasses the problems of insulin resistance and restores metabolic function in glucose-starved cells. Although the studies have been small, the use of MCTs in Alzheimer’s Disease and mild cognitively impaired patients has shown improvements in memory and cognitive performance. Further studies are needed to demonstrate if this brain boosting effect is observed in normal healthy subjects.
MCTs for Diabetes
All the of the benefits of MCTs seem to be intertwined and circle back to overcoming insulin resistance or improving insulin sensitivity, and metabolic condition. MCTs have been shown to enhance glucose utilization in both diabetics and non-diabetics. This could mean better glucose control for those with insulin resistance or diabetes, and in the prevention of both. Insulin resistant cells can still utilize ketones for fuel, and in the case of hypoglycemia, ketones offer an alternative fuel source which can prevent the symptoms of hypoglycemia.
How to use MCTs
There are numerous ways to use MCTs and are incredibly versatile and can be used in anything from coffee, smooties, shakes baked keto snacks.
For the average person, dosages can range from 1 serve 10g 1-3 times per day. Achieving nutritional ketosis with carbohydrate restriction will raise Ketone levels and have many benefits.
Potential Side Effects
The worst of the personal side-effects from MCTs do not pose much risk and are very avoidable. Adding too much MCTs IN Oil form can potentially cause diarrhea, and/or other GI distress. This can be avoided by following the recommendations above to start slow, perhaps mix the MCTs into food and gradually increase dose until you find what works for you! Over time, your tolerance will increase. Powdered MCTs offer an advantage if you are sensitive to MCT oil as they tend to be better tolerated and can be used in many applications.