Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) have become quite the rage among biohackers and people who follow a ketogenic diet. What do these folks know that the rest of us don’t? It turns out that a growing number of studies are crediting this unique type of fat with several important health benefits. Keep reading as we unpack the benefits of mct oil and how MCTs can contribute to better health.
What are MCTs?
Most of the fats we eat are long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), which are made up of 18 to 20 carbon atoms. (1) For the body to digest LCTs, they must first be broken down by bile and pancreatic enzymes before traveling through the lymphatic system and into the bloodstream. They are then transported to the liver where they are converted into ketones. (40)
MCTs, on the other hand, are an easily digestible type of saturated fat made up of just eight to ten carbon atoms. Unlike LCTs, they are directly transported to the liver where they are converted into ketones. (3)(38) Another difference? Due to their shorter carbon chain, MCTs are typically digested before they can be stored as body fat. (12)
Did you know? While LCTs provide 9.2 calories per gram, MCTs clock in at a slightly lower calorie count of 8.3 calories per gram. (28)
Where to find MCTs
LCTs are widely found in foods like oily fish (e.g., salmon), red meat, egg yolks, and even some fruits, herbs, nuts, and seeds. But MCTs can only be obtained from a few dietary sources. (1) Medium-chain triglyceride foods include:
- Coconut oil
- Full-fat cow’s, sheep’s or goat’s milk
- Human breast milk
- Palm kernel oil
- Yogurt (21)
The highest amount of MCTs are found in coconut and palm kernel oil, with just small amounts found in dairy products. (39) Since most people don’t eat coconut or palm kernel oil on a regular basis, supplementing with MCT oil may be an easier way to incorporate these beneficial fats into your daily diet.
MCT oil is a concentrated source of medium-chain triglycerides made by refining raw coconut or palm oil to remove other compounds or contaminants. The result is a liquid oil containing 100% medium-chain triglycerides. (18)(28)
7 Health benefits of MCT oil
Proponents of MCT oil have credited it as a dietary supplement with an array of health benefits. Here’s what the science says.
1. Blood sugar
Studies suggest that a daily dose of MCT oil may help improve insulin sensitivity and foster modest weight loss in those with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. (22)(36) In one small study involving 40 people with type 2 diabetes, those who supplemented with MCT oil experienced weight loss as well as a reduction in waist circumference and insulin resistance compared to those consuming corn oil containing LCTs. (10)
2. Brain health
MCTs are transformed into ketones, which can be used by the brain as an alternative source of fuel (glucose is the brain’s primary energy source). (13) This has sparked interest among some researchers into the possible role MCTs might play in treating certain brain disorders. Some evidence even suggests that MCTs can improve learning, memory, and brain function in people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. (8)(24)(29)
Other studies suggest that MCT oil may help children with autism and people suffering from epilepsy. (15)(16) During one of these studies, MCT oil was found to reduce epileptic seizures more effectively than a common seizure medication. (5)
3. Cardiovascular health
MCTs have been shown to improve cholesterol in both human and animal studies. One study of 24 overweight men found that adding a blend of MCT oil, flaxseed oil, and phytosterols reduced total cholesterol levels by 12.5%. When the participants were given a blend that traded MCT oil for olive oil, total cholesterol only dropped by 4.7%. (31) Another study that appeared in the journal Open Heart found that MCT oil also raised high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (good cholesterol) levels, thus promoting a healthier cholesterol ratio. (18) Other research suggests that, thanks to these actions, MCT oil may also help prevent atherosclerosis—the stiffening and narrowing of arteries. (37)
4. Exercise performance
Since MCT oil is rapidly digested, some studies suggest that it may serve as an effective source of energy during exercise. (27) One recent study that appeared in the journal PLoS ONE reports that dietary MCT oil enhances both exercise performance and endurance. (39) This confirms earlier research reporting that MCTs improved endurance in recreational athletes participating in high-intensity exercise. (23)
5. Gastrointestinal health
MCT oil promotes a healthier microbiome by fostering bacterial diversity while also strengthening the intestinal barrier. This may help prevent dysbiosis and improve both gastrointestinal and metabolic health. (25)
According to a paper published in Practical Gastroenterology, people with pancreatic insufficiency—a condition in which the pancreas can’t produce enough of the enzymes needed to digest food—as well as those who have had part of the stomach or small bowel removed may benefit from MCTs. Specifically, MCT oil may help reduce the excess fecal fat (steatorrhea) that often occurs in these conditions. (28)
Inflammation has been linked to a wide range of chronic diseases, from brain disorders to heart disease. (11) According to a study in the journal Nutrition in Clinical Practice, MCT oil acts as an anti-inflammatory by downregulating pro-inflammatory cytokines and elevating anti-inflammatory cytokines. (41) Earlier research found that MCT oil was more effective than other oils for reducing the body’s inflammatory response. In one study involving 60 preterm newborns, those who received intravenous MCT oil with omega-3 fatty acids had significantly lower levels of key inflammatory markers compared to those receiving a soy oil infusion. (30)
7. Weight loss
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 73.6% of American adults are overweight. Among those, 42.5% are considered obese. (36) Studies suggest that MCTs may provide a modest benefit to people looking to lose weight. (14)(32)(33)
In one review of 13 studies, researchers found that overweight people who consumed MCTs instead of LCTs experienced a greater decrease in their overall weight, as well as in their hip and waist circumference. The studies that were evaluated also pointed to a higher loss of total body fat, subcutaneous fat, and visceral fat in those routinely making MCT oil a part of their daily diets. (20) These effects may be due to the MCTs ability to modulate the hormones that regulate appetite, boost the feelings of fullness, and support calorie and fat burning . (17)(34)
How to choose and use MCT oil
Some people believe that coconut oil and MCT oil can be used interchangeably. While coconut oil is a rich source of MCTs, it also contains LCTs and unsaturated fats. (26) Conversely, MCT oil is a clear, flavorless liquid that contains concentrated medium-chain triglycerides. When choosing an MCT oil, look for a reputable brand that specifies pure, 100% MCT oil.
MCT oil can be taken straight from the bottle or it can be added to smoothies, protein shakes, and homemade salad dressings. You can also enjoy MCT oil in coffee. (2) However, unlike coconut oil, MCT oil has a low smoke point, so it is not recommended for cooking. (3)
Did you know? MCT oils are synthetically made to ensure purity since natural sources (like coconut oil) contain other fats and compounds that may not bestow the same health benefits. (9)
MCT oil dosage and MCT oil side effects
Although there is no official dietary guideline for the tolerable upper limit for MCTs, a maximum dosage of 4 to 7 tbsp has been suggested. (28) Most studies have used 1 to 5 tbsp.
Even though MCT oil is generally well tolerated, it’s important to note that these amounts can initially cause gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, abdominal cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea in some people. (6) To mitigate these side effects, it’s a good idea to begin with a small amount (e.g., 1 tsp) of MCT, gradually increasing your intake over time.
The bottom line
While MCT oil isn’t a magic solution that will have you fitting into your skinny jeans overnight, research suggests that adding medium-chain triglyceride oil to your daily wellness routine might provide an array of health benefits. The benefits of mct oil include improved brain, heart, and gastrointestinal health, and even a modest improvement in weight loss. While MCT oil may trigger some gastrointestinal symptoms, it is generally considered safe. (19)
Fullscript simplifies supplement dispensingCreate your dispensary today I'm a patient
- Abedi, E. & Sahari, M.A. (2014). Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid sources and evaluation of their nutritional and functional properties. Food Science & Nutrition, 2(5), 443-463.
- Baumeister, A., Gardemann, J., Fobker, M., Spiegler, V., & Fischer, T. (2021). Short-term influence of caffeine and medium-chain triglycerides on ketogenesis: a controlled double-blind intervention study. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, 2021, 1861567.
- Boateng, L., Ansong, R., Owusu, W.B., & Steiner-Asiedu, M. (2016). Coconut oil and palm oil’s role in nutrition, health and national development: a review. GMJ-Ghana Medical Journal, 50(3), 189-196.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Obesity and overweight. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm
- Chang, P., Terbach, N., Plant, N., Chen, P.E., Walker, M.C., & Williams, R.S.B. (2013). Seizure control by ketogenic diet-associated medium chain fatty acids. Neuropharmacology, 69, 105-114.
- Courchesne-Loyer, A., Lowry, C., St. Pierre, V., Vandenberghe, C., Fortier, M., Castellano, C., Wagner, J.R., & Cunnane, S. (2017). Emulsification increases the acute ketogenic effect and bioavailability of medium-chain triglycerides in humans. Current Developments in Nutrition, 1(7), e000851.
- Croteau, E., Castellano, C., Richard, M.A., Fortier, M., Nugent, S., Lepage, M., Duchesne, S., … Cunnane, S.C. (2018). Ketogenic medium chain triglycerides increase brain energy metabolism in Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 64(2), 551-561.
- Cunnane, S.C., Courchesne-Loyer, A., St. Pierre, V., Vandenberghe, C., Pierotti, T., Fortier, M., Croteau, E., Castellano, C. (2016). Can ketones compensate for deteriorating brain glucose uptake during aging? Implications for the risk and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1367(1), 12-20.
- Ferguson, L.R., Laing, B., Ellett, S., Marlow, G., Jesuthasan, A., Karunasinghe, N., & Eyres, L. (2016). Medium chain triglyceride oil: an intended placebo with unexpected adverse effects. Annals of Clinical and Laboratory Research, 4, 3.
- Han, J.R., Deng, B., Sun, J., Chen, C.G., Corkey, B.E., Kirkland, J.L., Ma, J., & Guo, W. (2007). Effects of dietary medium-chain triglycerides on weight loss and insulin sensitivity in a group of moderately overweight free-living type 2 diabetic Chinese subjects. Metabolism, 56(7), 985–991.
- Hunter, P. (2012). The inflammation theory of disease. EMBO Reports, 13(11), 968-970.
- Jandacek, R.J. (1994). Structured lipids: An overview and comments on performance enhancement potential. Food Performance to Enhance Performance, NCBI Bookshelf, Institute of Medicine Committee on Military Nutrition Research. National Academies Press (US). Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK209064/
- Jensen, N.J., Wodschow, H.Z., Nilsson, M., & Rungby, J. (2020). Effects of ketone bodies on brain metabolism and function in neurodegenerative diseases. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 21(22), 8767.
- Kinsella, R., Maher, T., & Clegg, M.E. (2017). Coconut oil has less satiating properties than medium chain triglyceride oil. Physiology & Behavior, 179, 422-426.
- Lee, R.W.Y., Corley, M.J., Pang, A., Arakaki, G., Abbott, L., Nishimoto, M., Miyamoto, R., … Wong, M. (2018). A modified ketogenic gluten-free diet with MCT improves behavior in children with autism spectrum disorder. Physiology & Behavior, 188, 205-211.
- Liu, Y.M. & Wang, H.S. (2013). Medium-chain triglyceride ketogenic diet, an effective treatment for drug-resistant epilepsy and a comparison with other ketogenic diets. Biomedical Journal, 36(1):9-15.
- Maher, T., Deleuse, M., Thondre, S., Shafat, A, & Clegg, M.E. (2020). A comparison of the satiating properties of medium-chain triglycerides and conjugated linoleic acid in participants with healthy weight and overweight or obesity. European Journal of Nutrition, 60, 203-215.
- McCarty, M.F. & DiNicolantonio, J.J. (2016). Lauric acid-rich medium-chain triglycerides can substitute for other oils in cooking applications and may have limited pathogenicity. Open Heart, 3(2), e000467.
- Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). https://www.rxlist.com/medium_ chain_triglycerides_ mcts/supplements.htm
- Mumme, K. & Stonehouse, W. (2015). Effects of medium-chain triglycerides on weight loss and body composition: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, 115(2), 249-263.
- Myrie, S.B. & Jones, P.J.H. (2011). Functional foods and obesity. Functional Foods (Second Edition), Woodhead Publishing Series in Food Science, Technology and Nutrition, 234-260. Available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9781845696900500102
- Nagao, K. & Yanagita, T. (2010). Medium-chain fatty acids: functional lipids for the prevention and treatment of metabolic syndrome. Pharmacological Research, 61(3), 208-212.
- Nosaka, N., Suzuki, Y., Nagatoishi, A., Kasai, M., Wu, J., & Taguchi, M. (2009). Effect of ingestion of medium-chain triacylglycerols on moderate- and high-intensity exercise in recreational athletes. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, 55(2), 120-125.
- Reger, M.A., Henderson, S.T., Hale, C., Cholerton, B., Baker, L.D., Watson, G.S., Hyde, K., … Craft, S. (2004). Effects of ß-hydroxybuterate on cognition in memory-impaired adults. Neurobiology of Aging, 25(3), 311-314.
- Rial, S.A., Karelis, A.D., Bergeron, K., & Mounier, C. (2016). Gut microbiota and metabolic health: the potential beneficial effects of a medium chain triglyceride diet in obese individuals. Nutrients, 8(5), 281.
- Sankararaman, S. & Sferra, T.J. (2018). Are We Going Nuts on Coconut Oil? Current Nutrition Reports, 7(3):107-115.
- Schönfeld, P. & Wojtczak, L. (2016). Short- and medium-chain fatty acids in energy metabolism: the cellular perspective. Journal of Lipid Research, 57(6), 943-954.
- Shah, N.D. & Limketkai, B.N. (2017). The use of medium-chain triglycerides in gastrointestinal disorders. Practical Gastroenterology, 160, 20-28.
- Sharma, A., Bemis, M., & Desilets, A.R. (2014). Role of medium chain triglycerides (Axona®) in the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias, 29(5), 409-414.
- Skouroliakou, M., Konstantinou, D., Agakidis, C., Kaliora, A., Kalogeropoulos, N, Massara, P., Antoniadi, M.,Karagiozoglou-Lampoudi, T. (2016). Parenteral MCT/w-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid-enriched intravenous fat emulsion is associated with cytokine and fatty acid profiles consistent with attenuated inflammatory response in preterm neonates. Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 31(2), 235-244.
- St. Onge, M. & Jones, P.J.H. (2003). Consumption of a functional oil rich in phytosterols and medium-chain triglyceride oil improves plasma lipid profiles in men. The Journal of Nutrition, 133(6), 1815-1820.
- St. Onge, M.P. & Jones, P.J. (2003). Greater rise in fat oxidation with medium-chain triglyceride consumption relative to long-chain triglyceride is associated with lower initial body weight and greater loss of subcutaneous adipose tissue. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 27(12):1565-1571.
- St. Onge, M.P. & Bosarge, A. (2008). Weight-loss diet that includes consumption of medium-chain tricylglycerol oil leads to a greater rate of weight and fat mass loss than does olive oil. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 87(3), 621-626.
- St. Onge, M., Mayrsohn, B., O’Keeffe, M., Kissileff, H.R., Choudhury, A.R., & Laferrère, B. (2014). Impact of medium and long chain triglycerides consumption on appetite and food intake in overweight men. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 68(10), 1134-1140.
- Sung, M., Liao, F., & Chien, Y. (2018). Medium-chain triglycerides lower blood lipids and body weight in streptozotocin-induced type 2 diabetes rats. Nutrients, 10(8), 963.
- Thomas, D.D., Stockman, M., Yu, L., Meshulam, T., McCarthy, A.C., Ionson, A., Burritt, N., … Apovian, C.M. (2019). Effects of medium chain triglycerides supplementation on insulin sensitivity and beta cell function: A feasibility study. PLoS One, 14(12), e0226200.
- Titov, V.N., Ivanov, G.A., & Antonov, A.M. (2019). Laurine fatty acids, medium fatty acids and triglycerides, hyperlipidemia, resistance to insulin, prevention of atherosclerosis and ateromatosis. Klin Lab Diagn, 64(2), 68-77.
- Vandenberghe, C., St-Pierre, V., Fortier M., Catellano, C., Cuenoud, B. & Cunnane, S.C. (2020). Medium chain triglycerides modulate the ketogenic effect of a metabolic switch. Frontiers in Nutrition, 7, 3.
- Wang, Y., Liu, Z., Han, Y., Xu, J., Huang, W. & Li, Z. (2018). Medium chain triglycerides enhance exercise endurance through the increased mitochondrial biogenesis and metabolism. PloS one, 13(2), e0191182.
- You, Y.N., Ling, P., Qu, J.Z., & Bistrian, B.R. (2008). Effects of medium-chain triglycerides, long-chain triglycerides, or 2-monododecanoin on fatty acid composition in the portal vein, intestinal lymph, and systemic circulation in rats. JPEN: Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, 32(2), 169-175.
- Yu, S., Go, G., & Kim, W. (2019). Medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil affects the immunophenotype via reprogramming of mitochondrial respiration in murine macrophages. Foods, 8(11), 553.