You may have heard of MCT oil, a relatively new supplement that takes the form of a colorless oil. MCT oil is not just a passing health trend, but a proven benefit for brain and gut health. MCT stands for medium-chain triglycerides, which are one of the easiest types of fat to digest and break down for fuel. In addition to boosting the body and brain, there are several other benefits of MCTs to know about, as well as potential side effects.
What are medium chain triglycerides?
When you think of triglycerides, you probably think of high cholesterol and heart disease. But triglycerides are a type of fat—in fact, they’re the most abundant type of fat found in your body. There are short-, medium-, and long-chain triglycerides, and your body uses all of them for fuel.
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are a tasteless oil isolated and extracted from coconuts and palm kernels. There are four types of MCTs, known as C6, C8, C10 and C12. These represent various fatty acids containing a carbon chain with an average length of 6 to 12 atoms. You can take MCT oil every day, but you may experience side effects when you start taking it.
Benefits of medium chain triglycerides
Research suggests that MCTs can improve mental clarity, help with weight management, lower cholesterol levels and protect brain health.
Increases mental clarity
MCTs penetrate the blood-brain barrier, which controls molecules entering the brain. Since they don’t need to be broken down, MCTs provide an immediate source of energy for your brain that’s healthier than glucose. In fact, MCTs do not have the same “brain fog” effect that often follows eating sugary foods. If you’re trying to avoid simple carbs, MCTs can keep your brain and body functioning by preventing sugar cravings.
Protects brain health
The brain’s ability to obtain energy from glucose declines with age, leading to neurodegeneration and cognitive decline. MCT oil may protect your memory and cognitive function as you age. It provides all the energy your brain cells need, and research suggests it can improve cognitive performance at any age.
It reduces the risk of heart disease and promotes fat burning
Like many healthy fats, MCTs are good for your heart. They have been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and improve fat metabolism.
Research shows that supplementing with MCT oil daily can melt 1.1 pounds every three weeks. MCTs increase fat oxidation, which means you burn more calories at the same time. MCTs also promote thermogenesis, which causes you to expend more energy to release body heat.
MCT oil side effects and dosage
MCTs can cause side effects, including bloating, diarrhea, stomach pain, and bloating. If you haven’t taken MCT oil before, start with no more than a teaspoon a day. Create no more than three or four teaspoons per day. If you have any gastrointestinal problems such as cramping or nausea, reduce your dose.
How do you take MCT oil?
It’s easy to add MCT oil to your routine by putting it in your morning coffee, smoothie, cereal, yogurt or oatmeal. You can also take it yourself. MCT oil is tasteless but has an oily consistency.
MCT Oil Summary
You can find MCT oil in health food stores. The only ingredient listed for an MCT oil product must be 100% medium chain triglycerides. Some MCT supplements list the types of MCTs in the ingredients, such as C8 or C12. According to research, C6, C8 and C10 provide the greatest benefits. Keep in mind that MCT oil is a source of calories and not a magic weight loss pill. You still need to exercise and burn more calories than you expend to lose weight.
- “Effects of medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) supplementation using a C8:C10 30:70 ratio on cognitive performance in healthy young adults” by Jake S. Ashton, James W. Roberts, Caroline J. Wakefield, Richard M. Page, Don PM MacLaren, Simon Marwood, and James J. Malone, 18 Nov 2020, Physiology & Behavior.
- “Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil affects immunophenotype via reprogramming of mitochondrial respiration in mule macrophages” by Seungmin Yu, Gwang-woong Go, and Wooki Kim, 5 Nov 2019, Foods.
- “Effects of medium-chain triglycerides on weight loss and body composition: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials” by Karen Mumme, PGDipSc and Welma Stonehouse, PhD, February 1, 2015, Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
- “Medium Chain Triglycerides and Health” by Volpe, Stella Lucia Ph.D., RDN, FACSM, ACSM-CEP, 2020, ACSM Journal of Health and Fitness.