Perhaps the most popular use of MCT oil is by athletes and bodybuilders looking to boost their endurance during strenuous exercise.
Another demographic that regularly uses it as a supplement are people looking to lose weight and increase brain performance.
But is this nootropic something you should look into? After all, the consensus surrounding fats is that fat intake leads to weight gain and related problems.
So, let’s take a good look at what MCTs actually are and how they can benefit your health.
- What are MCTs (Medium-Chain Triglycerides)?
- How Does MCT Oil Work in The Brain?
- What Are The Health Benefits of MCT Oil?
- How To Use MCT Oil
- What Are The Side Effects of MCT Oil?
What are MCTs (Medium-Chain Triglycerides)?
Not all fats are bad, and MCTs fall into the category of good fats. These fats consist of medium-chain fats termed triglycerides, hence the name MCT.
In comparison to long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), MCTs get absorbed more easily by the body.
All fats are made up of carbon atoms with LCTs averaging about 13-21 carbon atoms in length, and short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are made up of 6 or fewer carbons.
MCTS fall somewhere in between the two types with an average of 6-12 carbons.
Structure-wise, medium-chain triglycerides have 3 fatty acids and a glycerol molecule. The main medium-chain triglycerides fatty acids include:
- C6 can also be called hexanoic acid, is made up of capric acid.
- C8 is also termed octanoic acid and is made up of caprylic acid.
- C10 is called decanoic acid and is made up of capric acid.
- C12 is made up of lauric acid and is also called dodecanoic acid.
How Does MCT Oil Work in The Brain?
Typically, the primary sources of brain energy are carbohydrates or sugars, but when your glucose reserves drop, the liver starts converting stored fat into something called ketones.
Ketones are substances that the brain can use for fuel instead of glucose or sugar. They are produced by the liver when it breaks down a lot of fat to yield energy in the absence of carbs. Ketones are transferred directly to the brain passing through the blood-brain barrier.
This process replaces fats in place of glucose as fuel and provides the brain, heart, and muscles with energy. Evidence shows that MCT oil helps increase its function and energy by 8 to 9% for brain function.
So, when you start consuming more MCTs and producing more ketones, as in a ketogenic diet with lower carbohydrate content, there is an increase in your blood level of ketones. This buildup has the ability to provide various health benefits.
What Are The Health Benefits of MCT Oil?
There are many nootropic benefits of MCT oil when you use it as a supplementary oil to your diet to meet dietary requirements.
Being saturated fats, MCT oil, and coconut oil tend to last well and have a longer shelf life. Also, since the length of these fatty acid carbon chains is moderate, they are more quickly metabolized than LCTs which are harder to digest and tend to get stored.
Promotes Better Brain Performance
MCT oil supplements and nootropics support brain activity by raising plasma ketones in the blood. Evidence suggests that the brain keeps functioning optimally with a steady energy supply and reduces the risks of early brain aging and other diseases.
A study involving healthy adults showed improved cognitive performance after 2-3 weeks of supplementing with MCTs (1).
Additionally, MCT oil may help cure Alzheimer’s disease, boost cognitive function, and prevent future damage to the brain with the increased amount of ketones in the bloodstream.
Improves Memory Function
Brain benefits of MCT oil supplements extend to memory improvement as well. Increased ketone production acts as an essential energy source to the brain and may help you learn better, recall old memories easier, and improve your overall memory.
One study involving participants with mild cognitive impairment showed that 24 weeks supplementing with MCTs increased serum ketone bodies and improved memory (2).
Boosts Brain Energy and Endurance
Nootropic MCTs have the power to boost your energy levels and endurance. In addition, they help stimulate your metabolism and increase brain functions.
Given the brain’s constant demand for energy, MCT oil raises ketones. This process provides a longer-lasting alternate source to glucose that helps keep brain energy and endurance levels up.
Provides Anti-stress Effects
If you are prone to feeling stressed or anxious, you can consider MCT supplementation. Some research shows that when MCT oil supplements are taken along with a ketogenic diet, they can help reduce stress, treat depression and anxiety.
One animal study shows that MCTs in virgin coconut oil lowered serum cholesterol, glucose, triglyceride, and corticosterone levels, indicating the value of virgin coconut oil as an antistress oil (3).
Helps To Manage Epilepsy, Alzheimer, and Autism
Certain degenerative disorders can progress at a rapid rate if there is a lack of healthy fats.
On the other hand, the medium-chain fatty acids present in MCT oil may present health benefits for conditions like epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and autism and have been used as a mode of treatment to some extent (4).
For instance, the ketogenic diet not only enjoys popularity among people trying to lose some extra pounds but is equally favored by people who have epilepsy.
It is prescribed by a physician and carefully monitored by a dietician and is typically used in children with seizures that do not respond to medications.
The primary mechanism is that of high ketone levels and their ability to improving seizure control.
One study in this area provided information that the keto diet may be a feasible, effective, and long-term safe way to regulate epileptic seizures (5).
On another front, Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t let the sugar in your blood be used, but the ketogenic diet uses ketones as fuel instead. A study shows that taking MCT oil may block the receptors that cause memory loss and help the neuro cells survive better and longer.
A study with autistic children found an overall improvement when a keto diet was followed for adding MCT oil to their diet for 6 months.
Another study with children also showed positive results when a ketogenic and gluten-free diet improved autism behavior (6).
Supports Weight loss and Weight Management
Many studies show that the MCT content in coconut oil helps control weight and aids in weight loss in a few different ways.
First off, once you add MCT oil supplements to your diet, two hormones responsible for making you feel fuller, peptide YY and leptin, start to build up, which helps decrease your appetite (7).
This benefit of adding MCT oil to the diet can help you stop overeating by fulfilling the body’s need for healthy fats and nutrients.
And second, because MCT oil acts as an alternate fuel source, the body uses the fat content instead of carbohydrates to slowly but surely use up its fat reserves.
It will help you burn saturated fats, resulting in low body fat that branches out in other areas of health such as heart health, suppressed secretion of cytokines, and lowered inflammation.
So, if you are trying to achieve better exercise performance, higher endurance levels, improved body composition, and energy expenditure, then MCT oil can help you.
And finally, since the medium-chain triglyceride content in coconut oil is a burning type of fat and not the storing type, it becomes easy to burn body fat, reduce body weight, promote weight loss, and improve your overall appearance.
As a bonus, MCT fatty acids can preserve muscle mass during fat loss, making them ideal for consumption when aiming for weight loss.
That is why MCT oils are so closely associated with the keto diet and Paleo diet to accelerate fat loss.
Improves Digestion and Nutrient Absorption
MCT oils may help in better nutrient retention as compared to other chain fatty acids.
Different properties in the oil help control inflammatory bowel disease, provide proper nutrition and keep your liver healthy. They also maintain your gut health by regulating harmful bacteria and improving gut microbiota.
Not only do these properties help establish improved gut health, but they also increase activity levels, exercise endurance, and keep energy up.
One study investigating the effects and benefits of MCT-enriched diets showed them to manage metabolic diseases by modifying the gut microbiota (8).
The medium-chain length of MCTs makes it easy for the liver to metabolize the fats without causing digestive distress.
It may also be beneficial in regulating hunger hormones and preventing other digestive tract diseases like Crohn’s disease.
Lowers Blood Sugar Levels and Cholesterol
MCT oil has also been beneficial for individuals with cholesterol or diabetes, acting as a solution for low blood sugar.
One of the main health benefits associated with MCTs is their ability to promote weight loss, reducing the risk of heart disease. In addition, the MCT content in the diet may also help lower LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL cholesterol.
On the diabetes front, there is some evidence suggesting that coconut oil may reduce symptoms of type 2 diabetes. Most of the evidence comes from animal studies, showing a reduction in blood glucose and improved insulin resistance.
However, complete science-backed information regarding MCT oils is still out there since consumption may also lead to more significant fat buildup and higher insulin resistance in the liver, as shown by animal models.
How To Use MCT Oil
As a dietary supplement, MCTs can be used either as a powder or liquid. MCT oils, of course, are the liquid nootropic option and easy to supplement with.
They do not have a significant flavor, so they can easily be added to a beverage. Of course, if you want to keep things simple, even milk or water will do, but many people like to add it to their smoothies, shakes, or coffee.
Coconut oil has a better smoke point than MCT oil, making it a better option to cook with. You can use it for cooking and baking but not serious frying as it starts to burn at around 350 F. On the other hand, MCT oil has an ever lower smoke point of 302 F.
That being said, coconut oil stays solid at room temperature and starts to melt at about 78 F. So, the process of changing the oil from solid to liquid and back again does not affect its quality in any way.
MCT oils are a good energy source, but they still need to be taken along with other foods. The amount of MCT oil you consume will depend on the condition you are trying to treat, along with how well your body tolerates it.
The ideal amount of MCT oil to work with is between 4-7 tablespoons spread out throughout the day. Supplementary MCT oils are best taken in doses of 15-20 ml per meal up to 100 ml per day.
However, you should not take it as your sole source of dietary fat as it doesn’t contain a complete variety of the essential chain fatty acids required for optimal health.
It is best to start with a lower dose of the product and work your way up. Then, when you feel that the product has a positive effect, you can increase it but never exceed 100 ml per day. When used in excess amounts, the chain fats can react and disturb digestive tolerance.
After 3 weeks, you should be able to decide the amount of MCT oil fat content that is suitable for you.
Sources of MCT
MCTs can be derived from different foods, with coconuts being a superior quality source. More than 50% of the fat in coconut comes from MCTs making coconut oil the preferred source of medium-chain triglycerides.
MCTs can also be found in palm oil or dairy products such as yogurt and cheese, but coconut oil and palm oil represent the richest dietary source. While MCT oil and coconut oil are very similar, they also have their differences.
For instance, MCT oil contains 100% MCTs making it a concentrated source of dense nutrition. It is manufactured by refining coconut or palm kernel oil to remove other compounds and concentrate the MCTs naturally found in oils, giving it 50-80% caprylic acid and 20-50% caproic acid content.
On the other hand, coconut oil is made from coconut kernel containing 42% lauric acid, 7% caprylic acid, and 5% capric acid.
For the most part, lauric acid is more like an LCT in terms of slow digestion and absorption. As such, when compared with coconut oil, MCT oil is better for ketone production and maintaining ketosis while also having fewer calories than coconut oil.
What Are The Side Effects of MCT Oil?
Both MCT oil and coconut oil are safe to use and generally well-tolerated when consumed in moderate amounts.
However, ingestion of excessive amounts of MCTs has been associated with side effects. People using too much MCT oil report experiencing bloating, cramping, and other gut-related discomforts.
MCT oil in its raw state can be a little hard for people to swallow. While fat is essential to consume, pairing it with food intake can reduce any adverse effects.
Your doctor can help you out by giving you information and health tips regarding the use of MCT oil.
The bottom line on MCT oil is that if you are looking for the right way to lose weight, boost endurance, increase mental performance, and even lower the risk of heart disease, then MCTs deserve a closer look.
MCT oil contains fatty acids that can potentially trigger weight loss by lowering body fat, improve satiety, and improve the gut environment.
In addition, it is equally helpful for the effect of mental enhancement and athletic performance. This makes it a multipurpose oil that factors in when healthy fats are missing from the diet.
Of course, there is the off chance that MCTs may cause some digestive or laxative distress, but when weighing in the benefits over its limitations, the former outweigh the latter easily.
- Does MCT oil help brain fog?
Yes, MCT oil helps convert food to energy quickly, which is then directly sent to the brain.
Therefore, it is the perfect choice if you are having problems with brain fog as it would not just clear it but boost your entire nervous system to become more alert.
- Can I take MCT oil on an empty stomach?
Taking MCT oil without food can make you feel nauseous, give you stomach aches, experience diarrhea, vomiting, irritability, and other problems. To avoid this, it is recommended to take MCT supplements with food.
- Can MCT oil make you gain weight?
MCT oil has a lot of calories and saturated fats that can cause weight gain for some people. However, when taken as recommended and not exceeding the suggested amount should not add to your weight.
In contrast, athletes who consume this oil to boost their performance also have higher activity levels than non-athletic individuals and typically do not experience unwanted weight gain.