“MCT” is short for “medium-chain triglycerides.” These triglycerides are made up of medium-chain fatty acids, hence the name. The ‘medium’ refers to the length of their chemical structure, as all fats are comprised of carbon and hydrogen. There are also short-chain and long-chain fatty acids as well.
Short-chain fats will have fewer than six carbons, while long-chain fats will have 13 to 21 carbons. Medium-chain fats fall in the middle, at six to 12 carbons. Within medium-chain fatty acids, there are four subcategories:
- Caproic acid: 6 carbons (C6)
- Caprylic acid: 8 carbons (C8)
- Capric acid: 10 carbons (C10)
- Lauric acid: 12 carbons (C12)
MCT oil is simply a concentrated form of these MCTs. Many commercial products have all four subcategories of MCT, while some contain a roughly 50/50 ratio of C8 and C10 fats. MCT oil also commonly is used as a carrier for other compounds, such as CBD.
Note: There is some debate whether the lauric acid is a true MCT. Some researchers have found it behaves more like a long-chain fatty acid, so it is not broken down as efficiently. However, lauric acid offers other health benefits, such as antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties.
How Does MCT Oil Work?
Compared to long-chain fats, medium-chain fats are digested and absorbed much more easily. When MCTs are consumed, they are sent directly to the liver, where they have a thermogenic, or heat-producing, effect. This in turn positively affects metabolism and speeds up the digestive process. Generally speaking, the shorter the carbon chain, the more efficiently the MCT will be used within the body.
Because MCTs are sent directly to the liver, they are turned into ketones, rather than stored as fat. Ketones are a source of energy for the body and typically are preferred over glucose. This is because ketones don’t produce many reactive oxygen species (ROS) when they are metabolized to produce “adenosine triphosphate” or ATP, which participates in “inter-cellular energy transfer.” Ketones also help to suppress the hunger hormone, called ghrelin, as well as stimulating another hormone that signals the brain when the stomach is full.
Caprylic acid (C8) and capric acid (C10) are thought to be the most efficient of the four MCTs at increasing ketone levels.
Sources of MCT Oil
MCTs primarily are found in oils such as coconut oil and palm oil. However, most reputable MCT oil companies will derive their oil from coconut oil, due to palm oil’s environmental toll. Small amounts of MCTs can be found in other foods with saturated fats, including:
- Full-fat yogurt*
- Whole milk*
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Health Benefits of MCT Oil
MCT oil has numerous health benefits. Perhaps the biggest health benefit is MCTs are metabolized more quickly than other fats and, in turn, stimulate the metabolism to work faster. In addition, because MCTs are sent directly to the liver and converted into ketones, they are not stored as fat. Rather, they are used for energy and even can spike energy levels.
Other health benefits of MCT oil include:
- Feeling fuller longer, due to the MCTs affecting hunger hormones
- Reducing stored body fat, because MCTs boost metabolism
- Clearing brain-fog
- Improving overall digestion
- Balancing hormone levels
- Enhancing mood
MCT oil with lauric acid also can help to fight off bacteria, viruses, and other infections, due to its antiviral, antimicrobial, and antibacterial properties.
MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil
The main difference between MCT oil and coconut oil is MCT oil is a more concentrated form of MCTs and does not offer any health benefits beyond what the MCTs offer. On the other hand, while coconut oil offers many benefits, including antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it contains primarily lauric acid. As mentioned previously, while lauric acid offers these health benefits, it is not the best form of MCT, as it is not digested as easily.
Most individuals concerned with their MCT consumption opt for MCT oil over coconut oil, simply due to the fact that one would need to consume a very large amount of coconut oil to receive the same amount of MCT as with actual MCT oil. On average, just one tablespoon of MCT oil will contain roughly 15 grams of MCTs. Coconut oil only contains about two grams of MCTs per tablespoon.
MCT oil is a great way to deliver maximum amounts of MCTs to the body and provides many health benefits. Because it bypasses the majority of the digestive system and is sent directly to the liver, MCT oil can speed up the metabolism and the digestive process as a whole. In addition, using pure MCT oil can be a great way to ensure proper MCT levels are maintained.