MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) oil contains the naturally occurring fatty acids caprylic acid (C8:0) and capric acid (C10:0), found in foods such as coconut and palm kernel. Coconut oil is probably the best known natural source of MCTs. Similarly to coconut oil, MCT oil offers a number of beneficial health properties.
1. Antimicrobial actions
The antimicrobial effects of MCTs against bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa have been investigated extensively. For example, the powerful antimicrobial properties associated with MCTs are probably most well known for their ability to stop the harmful overgrowth of undesirable pathogens such as Candida albicans and Helicobacter pylori.
2. Supporting immune function
In addition to their antimicrobial effects, there is increasing evidence to suggest that MCT oil possesses immune modulating properties, acting by boosting the numbers and the activity of specific immune cells and reducing the levels of a number of inflammatory biomarkers.
3. Weight management
MCTs are a shorter-chain version of the molecules that make up saturated fats, and may therefore be considered as a healthy alternative to other saturated fats. Due to their small size, they do not follow the normal pathway of digestion, sent instead to the liver where they are preferentially converted to fuel. This means that instead of being stored in the body, they have a thermogenic effect, boosting metabolism and helping to drive the body into a state of excess calorie burning, thus aiding in weight loss.
4. Athletic training
Unsurprisingly, given their benefits for weight control, MCTs are often used by athletes to help decrease levels of body fat and increase levels of lean muscle. They are also useful for recovery after intense exercise, making them useful for individual participating in endurance events, strength training and also bodybuilding.
5. Cognitive health
The brain is an exceptionally active organ with extremely high energy requirements. Whilst glucose is the brain’s preferential choice of fuel, there are a number of health conditions where the availability of glucose is compromised. In patients with neurodegenerative diseases for example, neurons aren’t able to utilise glucose for performance and both the brain’s structure and function can be compromised. Studies have however shown that when taken in high doses, MCTs give rise to an alternative source of fuel called ketone bodies. These are molecules that are converted from fat when energy sources are low, such as in carbohydrate restrictive diets, starvation or during prolonged intense exercise. In such cases, ketone bodies can be utilised efficiently as an alternative to glucose, thereby supporting the requirements of the energy-hungry brain.
Ketogenic diets are those that are low in carbohydrate but high in fat, with the primary objection to drive the body away from glucose production to ketone production. Ketogenic diets have been shown to improve alertness and help reduce seizure frequency and severity among individuals with epilepsy, with MTCs used a prominent source of fat within this diet.
7. Cardiovascular health
MCTs, similarly to the mono-unsaturated fat oleic acid found in olive oil, offer a number of benefits for heart health. Both have been shown to lower heart-damaging triglyceride levels, whilst decreasing total cholesterol levels and raising HDL (healthy) cholesterol.
We recommend 2-4g MCTs daily; more intensive benefits can be obtained from doses as high as 10g daily. Ideally MCT oil should be taken with food.