As stated above, MCT oil stands for Medium Chain Triglyceride. It is a type of fat with the branded label (median chain) based upon its structure and size. Fats are classified as short, medium, long and very long chain triglycerides or fatty acids. Each have their pros, cons and popular characters (i.e. Omega 3 & 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) like EPA & DHA in your fish oil being long chain fatty acids). The labeled size of the fatty acid is based upon how many carbon atoms (C#) are linked together in a chain.
Colon health dependent SCFAs (Short Chain Fatty Acids) produced by your gut bacteria in response to consumption of resistant starches (green banana, beans & lentils), pectin (apples, oranges, carrots), and fructooligosacharrides (onion, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes); or obtained directly from cow’s milk, certain cheeses, and butter contain 2 to 6 carbon atoms chained together (C2-C6). The long (C13-C21) and very long (C22+) chain fatty acids include your Omegas (3,6,9) and are generally what we think of when we refer to our dietary fats like olives, olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados, animal fats, fish, and vegetable/soybean oils.
(The inclusion of C6: Caproic Acid, normally left out due to its unpleasant taste & smell, and C12: Lauric Acid in the true MCT classification is debatable, as many leave the latter (which makes up the majority of the touted MCT composition of coconut oil) out due to it being less readily absorbed and converted to energy in the form of ketones. Various sources have coconut oil at ~60% MCTs or MCFAs, with ~50-60% of that being C12: Lauric Acid. Not to be discounted though, lauric acid is converted to monolaurin in the body, a potent antimicrobial whole food source to fight off bad bacteria and combat viruses.)
That leaves us C8: Caprylic Acid and C10: Capric Acid being your classical MCTs and the all-stars (with C8 being superior) at being readily absorbed and converted into fuel for the body and brain in the form of ketones. It’s this link to the formation of ketones that has MCT oil being a staple in many of the keto-crazed smoothies, coffee, and atop salads. MCFAs (Medium Chain Fatty Acids aka Triglycerides) are mainly derived from coconut oil, palm kernel oil and certain dairy.
This absorption and utilization as fuel can be advantageous for a variety of reasons. First off, due to the size of the fat, it can be absorbed directly through the intestines, into the liver, and converted to a usable fuel source (a ketone; a form of fuel from a fat, rather than glucose; a form of fuel from a carbohydrate or sugar) for body and brain. A caveat to this is due to the fact that it is so readily absorbed by the intestines, bowel tolerance, especially upon initial introduction should be taken into consideration. Personally, while implementing a LCHF (low carb high fat) diet, and slowly increasing MCT dose, I was taking 3tbs of 100% C8 per day with no issue. In order to avoid what Bulletproof headman, Dave Asprey and personal mentor from afar, Dr. Joseph Mercola refer to as “disaster pants,” progressive implementation should be practiced.
MCTs are so efficiency utilized due to the fact that they bypass the route of digestion utilized by most of our dietary fats. This means they do not require the pancreatic enzyme lipase nor bile from the gall bladder. This can make MCT oil an intelligent add for anyone who has unfortunately had their gall bladder removed (cholecystectomy) and may have issues digesting fats.
Let’s talk about craving and appetite control, and in many cases blood sugar and insulin control. MCTs prompt the signaling of two hormones (peptide YY & leptin) that signal satiation, or the sense of being satisfied and full. This is one reason why many look to MCT oil while practicing intermittent fasting(IF), time restricted eating (TRE), or even while striving for ketosis, as this can be consumed during your fast (depending on how strict your definition of a fast is) to stave off hunger and a sooner than later re-feed time, while also providing an indirect source of ketones. Obviously you don’t need to be practicing IF or TRE to reap the hormone signaling, satiation benefits.
Another major component as to the benefits of MCTs is due to the fact that they form ketones. Without going too deep into ketosis (see what I did there?), we just need to re-establish that ketones are equivalent to glucose in the regards that both are a fuel to be used for the body & brain. This can be of interest for a variety of conditions:
Alzheimer’s/dementia & other forms of neurodegeneration:
The potential benefits here are at least two fold. One, often times neurodegeneration and decline in cognitive function is attributed to the brains declining ability to use glucose as fuel. Without fuel, cells operate dysfunctionally or die. In the brain you can imagine how this manifests outwardly. MCTs provide an alternative fuel source for the brain if and when the ability to metabolize glucose cerebrally becomes an issue.
We also noted how too much blood glucose from overfeeding on carbs & sugar can lead to the formation of AGEs (advanced glycation end products) in the brain, which causes damage and destruction. Overfeeding on carbs can also cause something called excitotoxicity, where the brain cells are bombarded by glucose, which converts to the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate, leading to overstimulation to the point where the brain cell literally burns out and dies.
MCTs can help attenuate this by way of minimizing overeating by causing satiation, but also taking the potentially problematic glucose out of the equation with the ketone being used as fuel. This goes hand in hand with the theory behind why nutritional ketosis could be an optimal form of dietary therapy for the aging; especially if afflicted with certain neurodegenerative conditions.
One of the preliminary ways therapeutic ketosis was introduced was to address drug resistant seizures. It appears the ketones provide a clean fuel source to the brain without causing a surge in glutamate or exicitotoxicity oft seen in seizures. Many of these patients are children, so as you can imagine trying to have a child adhere to a ketogeneic diet can be challenging to say the least. MCTs provide a source of ketones for the brain to safely use as fuel, in some cases minimizing seizures.
Cravings, Weight Control & Diabetes:
We mentioned the satisfying hormonal signal MCTs appear to spark. Because they are so rapidly absorbed and converted into useable energy, they don’t hang around as long as their long chain counterparts; as such they are less likely to be converted and stored as adipose tissue aka body fat. As you can deduce, based upon many of the physiological mechanisms we mentioned above, MCTs can also prove beneficial in type II diabetics.
With all of the buzz around “keto”, IF & TRE; coupled with the continual vindication and subsequent emphasis on the wide range of benefits gleaned through the inclusion of healthy fats, MCT oils should at least be considered as part of an optimized, comprehensive diet.