MCT Oil Boosts Energy, Increases Metabolism & Balances Blood Sugar. So Why Aren't More People Using It?
Our brain, hormones, and immune system need healthy fats from the foods we eat to thrive. The trillions of cells that our bodies are made of depend on healthy fats to function optimally. In reality, there is nothing new about this—from an evolutionary and biological perspective, fat was and will always be an essential part of our existence and wellness.
I love real, whole-food fats like avocados, olives, coconut, nuts, seeds, grass-fed ghee, and wild-caught fish, but one of my favorite fat hacks that I use in my functional medicine center is something called MCT oil.
What the heck is MCT oil?
I'm glad you asked! Medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs, are a super-special type of fats (or fatty acid) that are six to 12 carbons in length.
There are four main kinds of MCTs based on their length:
- Capronic acid: 6 carbons (C6)
- Caprylic acid: 8 carbons (C8)
- Capric acid: 10 carbons (C10)
- Lauric acid: 12 carbons (C12)
Technically speaking, from a biology perspective, lauric acid should actually be considered a long-chain triglyceride (LCT), not an MCT; unlike the biological MCTs, lauric acid gets processed by your liver. MCTs, on the other hand, skip this longer liver pathway step and get converted quickly into a source of energy by our body. Think of lauric acid like the really close cousin of the MCT family: always over the house on the weekends but not directly related.
Healthy MCT fats are largely missing from the modern Western diet. These little guys are a kind of saturated fat and are very easy for your body to break down and use for fuel compared to the more common LCT (long-chain triglyceride) fats. We all are born relying on fat in the form of breast milk for brain development and energy. Even if you weren't breastfed, what is added to formulas to mimic breast milk? MCT oil derived from coconut and palm oil.
There are both natural and synthetic MCT oils. The natural MCTs come from palm kernel oil, coconut oil, and dairy fats. You can also get MCT fats from the foods that you eat. Here’s a list of MCTs found naturally in foods. The percentages listed are the percentages of MCTs found in the total amount of fats in the food:
- Coconut oil: 15 percent
- Palm kernel oil: 7.9 percent
- Cheese: 7.3 percent
- Butter: 6.8 percent
- Milk: 6.9 percent
- Yogurt: 6.6 percent
Coconut oil and grass-fed ghee are two of my favorite whole food sources of MCTs. Both contain varying amounts of these different MCT fats, but MCT oil is the pure source of these bioavailable fats.
What are the health benefits of MCT oil?
How MCT oil affects your brain.
MCT oil has been shown to significantly improve the memory and overall brain health of people with functional brain problems like brain fog and even people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease who had the APOE4 gene, which is associated with an increased risk factor of the neurological condition.
How MCT oil can help with ketosis.
Having some MCT oils is one way to help you get into nutritional ketosis, also known as becoming a metabolic fat burner. Cutting carbs and increasing healthy fats like MCT is the secret to a healthy ketogenic diet.
MCT oil is easily absorbed, which boosts energy, and is an easy way to increase ketones. These fats are so good at increasing ketosis that they can work even in the presence of higher carb intake.
Coconut oil also contains a specific MCT called lauric acid, which has been shown to create a more sustained ketosis.
How MCT oil boosts your immune system.
Even though metabolically lauric acid acts more like a long-chain fat, it is still considered a close cousin to MCTs. While the other MCTs break down for energy more easily, lauric acid and caprylic acid are the bacterial, viral, and fungal fighter of the MCT family.
MCT is a great food-based way to promote healthy microbiome balance. Research has shown that MCT fats help kill off pathogenic (bad) bacterial infections, acting as a natural antimicrobial.
How MCT oil can help you lose weight.
Connected to their ability to improve ketosis, MCT fats have been shown to be superstars in their ability to aid in weight loss. So how do MCT oils do this, you ask? Let me count the ways:
Studies have shown that in just a few weeks, people using MCT oil dropped more pounds, losing weight around their hips and waist as well as the more dangerous fats around our organs (visceral) compared to those having other healthy fats.
How MCT oil can protect your kidneys.
Oils and foods rich in MCTs are one of the food sources I have patients with kidney issues focus on. MCTs in coconut oil have been shown in the medical literature to be an ideal fat for people struggling with acute kidney failure.
How MCT oil can enhance exercise.
Want to take your workouts to the next level? Research has shown that supplementing with a blend of MCT oil, amino acids rich in leucine, and good old vitamin D increases muscle strength.
It has also been shown that consuming MCT-rich foods like coconut increases the ability of people to work out longer during high-intensity exercise routines.
How MCT oils can help you absorb your omegas.
Everyone knows that omega fats from wild-caught fish are über-important for our cardiovascular, brain, hormone, skin, and immune health. Well, studies have shown that the effects of DHA and EPA omega fats were enhanced when the omega fats were enriched with MCT oils. So here's to healthy fat synergy!
How MCT oil helps balance blood sugar.
How MCT can keep your liver healthy.
How MCT oil can balance cholesterol.
While we need healthy cholesterol levels for optimal health, it's all about context and good quality of your lipid levels. MCTs have been shown to lower LDL/HDL ratio and lower cardiometabolic risk factors.
How much MCT oil should I take?
One word of advice for coconut and MCT oil: Start off slowly. Too much of this stuff and your stomach can cramp, and it can cause diarrhea. Start with 1 teaspoon per day and work your way up to 2 to 3 tablespoons a day. Blends with more C6, caproic acid, tend to cause more digestive issues for people, especially for people with more sensitive gastrointestinal systems. With that said, this shortest of the MCTs is the best for energy bioavailability.
The shorter carbon C8 is more easily broken down, making it ideal for brain fuel. So if optimizing brain health is a goal of yours, look for MCT oil blends that are higher, or exclusively C8. Remember, too, that C8, caprylic acid, is also the MCT that is good at fighting off infections as well, so win-win!
Also remember to focus on getting more of the foods that naturally have MCT fats in them, like coconuts, into your diet as well. Depending on the quality of coconut oil that you have, it roughly consists of:
- Caprylic acid (C8): 6 percent of coconut oil
- Capric acid (C10): 9 percent of coconut oil
- Lauric acid (C12): 50-plus percent of coconut oil
In addition to eating foods with MCT fats naturally in them, here are some other ways to incorporate MCT oil into your foods. Mix some MCT oil in:
- Salad dressings
- Bone broth
- Baked goods (if they are cooked at under 300°F)
I suggest not frying foods with MCT oil but in coconut oil, in its whole-food form.
Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C., is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He has holds a level 2 Doctor of Natural Medicine (DNM) certification. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Cole specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is also the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and bestselling author of Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum, and the New York Times bestseller Intuitive Fasting.