Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on November 23, 2022
4 min read

MCT oil is a supplement made from a type of fat called medium-chain triglycerides.

MCT molecules are smaller than those in most of the fats you eat (long-chain triglycerides [LCT]). This makes them easier to digest. You can absorb MCT in your bloodstream quickly. This turns it into energy you can use.

MCT oil is usually made from coconut or palm kernel oil. Both have MCT in them. You can buy 100% MCT oil or a mixture of MCT and LCT.

The way people get MCT oil from coconut or palm kernel oil is through a process called fractionation. This separates the MCT from the original oil and concentrates it.

Usually, people use MCT for help with:

  • Problems taking in fat or nutrients
  • Weight loss
  • Appetite control
  • Extra energy for exercise
  • Inflammation

More research is needed to discover if MCT oil can help with any of these conditions.

The short answer is we’re not sure.

You may store less fat and feel full longer if you replace LCT with MCT. If you aren’t as hungry, you may eat less. You might take in fewer calories if you use MCT oil instead of coconut oil.

While research is promising, there isn’t enough data to show that MCT oil will lead to weight loss.

MCT oil may help boost your strength if you’re elderly and weak. There’s also some evidence that MCT can raise the amount of energy used by your muscles. But other research shows it might not do that much to help get you through your workout. Study continues.

MCT can help your body make ketones, an energy source for your brain that doesn’t have carbs. Some say drinking it will make your mind sharper. But if you don’t have a cognitive disorder, you aren’t likely to get a long-lasting brain boost just by adding some MCT oil.

A study on preterm infants shows that adding MCT oil to formula can reduce a fungus called Candida that can cause infection.

MCT may also help soothe and treat skin infections. The lauric acid in MCT works as an antimicrobial, breaking down bacteria and virus walls to destroy them.

Your body makes ketones when you break down fat on a very low-carb diet. This can lower your insulin levels and help you burn fat. MCT helps you make more ketones than LCT. This may help you get to the fat-burning phase faster, but we don’t know for sure.

You may find it easier to stay on a keto diet that uses MCT because you can eat more carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables.

MCT may help with some conditions. Of course, talk to your doctor first.

Digestive problems: Your doctor may have you get more MCT if you have trouble digesting other kinds of fat or you struggle to get the nutrients you need. This can happen if you take some medications, or you have:

  • Problems with your pancreas
  • Had part of your stomach removed
  • Small bowel resection
  • Small bowel disease
  • Short bowel syndrome

Seizures: Studies show that a high-fat ketogenic diet eases seizures. It can help some children with epilepsy who don’t react to drug treatment. A keto diet that uses MCT instead of LCT may be easier for kids to stick to if they have trouble with the high amounts of fat.

Diabetes: If you have type 1 diabetes, fatty acids made by MCT may help you think better when you have very low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). It may trim body fat and improve insulin resistance for folks with type 2 diabetes, but we need more research to know for sure.

Autism: In one small study, adding MCT to a ketogenic gluten-free diet helped improve symptoms in children with autism. But more research needs to be done.

Neurological disorders: Some research shows MCT oil may help ease problems with thinking, memory, or judgement. If you have Alzheimer’s disease, your brain may not use glucose well. Some experts think using ketones as an energy source instead may help your brain work better.

Heart disease: A keto diet with MCT oil can help you lose extra weight, which can reduce your risk of heart disease. MCT oil in your diet can also help lower LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol while also increasing your HDL (the “good”) cholesterol. 

You can add MCT oil to many foods and drinks. Most commonly, you’ll find it in:

  • Smoothies
  • Salad dressing
  • Coffee

Because most MCT oil has a low burning point, it’s not a good idea to fry things with it.

The amount you should take depends on how well you tolerate it, and what benefit you’re trying to get. The most you should have in a day is around 4 to 7 tablespoons. Ideally, you should spread those tablespoons out throughout the day.

You may not feel well if you eat large amounts of it. You can get:

  • Stomach pain
  • Gas
  • Cramps
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Talk to a dietitian to find a dose that’s right for you. And since MCT oil doesn’t have essential fatty acids, you should include other fat in your diet.

It’s generally safe to use MCT oil moderately. But you should be careful when using it long-term. Some of the negatives include:

  • It has a lot of calories. This can cause you to gain weight.
  • Large amounts of saturated fat may raise your cholesterol.
  • MCTs may stimulate the release of hunger hormones, making you overeat.
  • High doses could lead to fat buildup in the liver.