MCT Oil: Health Benefits, Nutrition, and Uses

Medium-chain triacylglycerol oil — or MCT Oil  — is synthetic oil made by processing certain fats in the laboratory. MCTs carry different health benefits than usual dietary fats, called long-chain triglycerides (LCT) because your body uses them in a different way.

There are four types of MCTs: 

  • Caproic acid (C6)
  • Caprylic acid (C8)
  • Capric acid (C10)
  • Lauric acid (C12)

Most of the health benefits of MCT oil come from C6, C8, and C10, which are the compounds that bypass your digestive tract to be processed by your liver into chemical sources of energy called ketones

You can either buy pure MCT oil or a mixture of MCT and LCT. Coconut oil is the most common source of these three MCTs. They can also be found in palm kernel oil. 

MCT oil is an important part of the popular ketogenic diet, in which you cut back on carbohydrates and eat more protein and fat. People typically use MCT oil by adding it to foods and drinks, such as:

  • Smoothies
  • Salad dressings
  • Ice cream
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Juice

Health Benefits

Incorporating MCT oil into your diet can help with various aspects of your health, such as: 

Gut Health  

Unlike most other substances, your body easily absorbs MCTs from your gastrointestinal tract (GI Tract) — made up of your mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and anus — and into your bloodstream. This helps with the management of gastrointestinal disorders.

Weight Loss

Studies show that MCTs reduce obesity by increasing the amount of energy you expend, promoting a feeling of fullness and decreasing the fat in your tissues. Compared with LCTs, MCTs effectively reduce:

Athletic Performance

MCT oil has a positive effect on exercise performance by helping lower your body's lactate buildup, which is a buildup of excess acids in the muscles which can cause post-workout soreness. Reducing the amount of lactic acid in the muscles helps ease that soreness. Studies have shown that cyclists who take 1.5 teaspoons of MCT oil have lower levels of lactate buildup when exercising compared to those who use traditional LCT oils.

Energy Boost

Because your body absorbs MCTs much quicker than it does LCTs, MCT oil can act as fast and effective brain fuel. Unlike with LCT oils, your body doesn’t have to use bile to break down MCT oil. Therefore, it goes straight from your gut to your liver to be used for energy right away.

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Health Risks

Although MCT oil provides many health benefits, it can carry some risks. Dietary intake of MCT oil can cause problems in your gut, such as: 

However, these negative side effects mainly affect people who eat very high-fat diets or who take MCT oil on an empty stomach. 

Because MCTs are metabolized differently than LCTs, they can also be harmful to people with liver damage or disease.

Amounts and Dosage

MCT oils contain varying levels of medium-chain triacylglycerols, which vary by supplement brand. It’s good to keep in mind that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate supplements like it regulates food and approved medications, so when you’re looking at new supplements, you’ll want to do a little extra research and talk with your doctor to be sure the MCT oil you’re considering comes from a reliable source.

Many people choose to mix MCT oil into various foods and beverages. Although you can take it on its own, you should beware of taking it on an empty stomach, which can cause various feelings of upset stomach.

While you can cook with MCT oil, you’ll want to keep in mind its low burning point, which is a lot lower than other kinds of oils often used in cooking, like olive oil. You shouldn't fry things with MCT oil, or you’re likely to burn them and cause a lot of smoke. 

If you are giving MCT oil a try, you should start with smaller doses first and then increase the amount over time if your body takes it well. The most you should have in a day is around 4 to 7 tablespoons (50 grams to 100 grams), and it should be spread throughout multiple meals.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 10, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Charlie Foundation for Ketogenic Therapies: "What are Medium Chain Triglycerides?"

Food and Nutrition: "Is MCT Oil a Miracle Supplement or Just Another Fad?"

Nutrition Issues in Gastroenterology: "The Use of Medium-Chain Triglycerides in Gastrointestinal Disorders."

San Diego Health: "What does MCT Oil do to your body?"

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