What Is MCT oil?
Popular with adherents of ketogenic, paleo, and other low-carb, high-fat diets, MCT oil has exploded in popularity as MCT-rich coconut oil has become a pantry staple. MCTs are touted as a "magic pill" for weight loss, athletic performance, stamina, and mental focus.
Are these health benefits fact or fiction, though?
If you're thinking about incorporating MCT oil into your diet, read on to learn what you need to know about the health benefits of MCT oil and what it can do for your body.
Medium-chain triglycerides — commonly called MCTs, for short — are medium-length chains of saturated fat. Palm oil and coconut oil, butter, milk, and cheese are all-natural sources of MCTs.
Unlike long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), an MCT's small size allows it to bypass digestion by the stomach. Instead, MCTs head straight to the liver through your bloodstream, where they're rapidly digested and converted into useable energy. Since MCTs are used by the body quickly, they're less likely to be stored as body fat.
MCT oil is distilled from coconut oil and contains more concentrated MCTs than natural foods. You can consume MCT oil on its own, but it's often added to foods such as nut butter, salad dressing, broth, or smoothies.
MCT oil is also frothed into coffee to make "bulletproof coffee." Bulletproof coffee is a high-calorie, high-fat coffee drink that's used as a breakfast replacement, often containing coffee, MCT oil, and butter or heavy cream.
What are the health benefits of MCT oil?
MCT oil may help you lose weight
MCT oil may help with weight loss, possibly by triggering the release of hormones that signal feelings of fullness and improving insulin resistance. Pure MCT oil has been shown to have more satiating properties than foods like coconut oil that are naturally high in MCTs and may be a better choice if you're trying to lose weight.
MCT oil may help manage metabolic diseases associated with obesity such as type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease by promoting healthy changes in gut bacteria.
MCT oil could give you an energy boost
Since MCTs are digested quickly and enter the cells without breaking down, you may experience an energy boost after consuming MCT oil.
Many people who consume MCT oil regularly follow a keto diet — a high fat, low carb diet designed to train the body to burn fat for its primary fuel source rather than sugar. Keto diets containing MCT oil can increase energy levels when MCT oil converts to ketones in the liver.
MCT oil may improve athletic performance
While more research is needed, some studies have suggested that MCT oil may allow athletes to work out longer before becoming exhausted. In animal studies, mice that were fed MCT were able to run longer at high temperatures than mice fed a standard diet.
In a 2009 study, athletes who consumed MCTs were shown to be able to engage in high-intensity exercise significantly longer before they experienced exhaustion.
Still, while many claims have been made about the health benefits of MCT oil, more research is needed to determine MCT oil's health benefits definitively. MCT has also shown some promise in treating diseases and disabilities such as Alzheimer's disease and autism, but again, this research isn't conclusive.
What are the health risks of MCT oil?
MCT oil can cause unpleasant side effects for some people, including:
High amounts of saturated fat like MCTs have been associated with many health problems, including an increased risk of heart disease. Long-term use of MCT oil may also lead to fat accumulation in the liver.
MCT oil has a low smoke point and shouldn't be used for cooking and frying. Cooking oil fumes has been associated with an increased risk of lung cancer.
Ultimately, more research is needed to determine the possible health risks of MCT oil. You should use caution and talk to your doctor before incorporating MCT oil or making any significant dietary change, especially if you hope to use MCT oil to help manage existing health conditions.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Cleveland Clinic: "Is MCT Oil Worth the Hype?"
Food Research International: "Reviews of medium- and long-chain triglyceride with respect to nutritional benefits and digestion and absorption behavior."
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Consuming high amounts of saturated fats linked to increased heart disease risk."
Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology: "Effect of ingestion of medium-chain triacylglycerols on moderate- and high-intensity exercise in recreational athletes."
Nutrients: "The Potential Health Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet: A Narrative Review."
OncoTargets and Therapy: "Association between cooking oil fume exposure and lung cancer among Chinese nonsmoking women: a meta-analysis."
Physiology & Behavior: "Coconut oil has less satiating properties than medium chain triglyceride oil."
PLOS ONE: "Medium Chain Triglycerides enhances exercise endurance through the increased mitochondrial biogenesis and metabolism."
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