MCT oil is a supplement often added to smoothies, bulletproof coffee and salad dressings.
As the name suggests, medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil contains medium-length chains of fats called triglycerides. Due to their shorter length, MCTs are easily digested and many health benefits are linked to the way your body processes these fats.
MCT oil is most commonly extracted from coconut oil, as more than 50% of the fat in coconut oil comes from MCTs. These fats are also found in many other foods, such as palm oil and dairy products.
Four different types of MCTs exist, of which caprylic and capric acid are most commonly used for MCT oil. In some cases, these specific types have unique benefits.
Here are 7 science-backed benefits you can get from adding MCT oil to your diet.
1. Promotes Weight Loss in Several Important Ways
There are several reasons why MCT oil may be beneficial when you’re trying to lose weight.
MCT oil has been shown to increase the release of two hormones that promote the feeling of fullness in the body: peptide YY and leptin.
It may even be better than coconut oil in keeping you full. One study found that people taking two tablespoons of MCT oil as part of their breakfast ended up eating less food for lunch compared to those taking coconut oil.
The same study also discovered a lower rise in triglycerides and glucose with MCT oil, which may also influence the feeling of fullness.
Additionally, taking MCT oil has been shown to significantly reduce body weight and waist circumference. Researchers even report that it could help prevent obesity.
MCT oil has about 10% fewer calories than long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), which are found in foods such as olive oil, nuts and avocados.
Your body also processes MCTs differently, which may help you burn calories.
Your body can use MCT oil as an instant source of energy, making it unnecessary to store fat for this purpose. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that your body may adapt to this dietary change, leading to only temporary results.
MCTs can be converted into ketones, which are produced from the breakdown of fat when carb intake is low. If you’re following a ketogenic diet, which is very low in carbs yet high in fat, then taking MCT oil can help you stay in the fat-burning state known as ketosis.
Lastly, your gut environment is very important when it comes to your weight. MCT oil can help optimize the growth of good bacteria and support the gut lining, which could also help you lose weight.
SUMMARY: MCT oil may support weight loss by increasing fullness, fat loss, energy burning, ketone production and by improving your gut environment.
2. Instant Source of Energy That Can Also Be Used to Fuel Your Brain
MCT oil has been dubbed a super fuel since your body absorbs MCTs more rapidly than long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), which contain more carbons in their fatty acid chains.
Due to their shorter chain length, MCTs travel straight from the gut to the liver and do not require bile to break down like longer-chain fats do.
In the liver, the fats are broken down to be either used as fuel or stored as body fat.
Since MCTs easily enter your cells without being broken down, they can be used as an immediate source of energy.
When you’re on a ketogenic diet, MCTs can also be converted into ketones in the liver.
These ketones can pass through your blood-brain barrier, making them a convenient source of energy for your brain cells.
SUMMARY: MCT oil is easily absorbed and transported throughout the body. It can be used as an instant source of energy or can be converted into ketones to fuel your brain.
3. May Reduce Lactate Buildup in Athletes and Help Use Fat for Energy
MCT oil has gained popularity amongst athletes.
During exercise, rising lactate levels can negatively impact exercise performance.
Interestingly, MCTs may help reduce lactate buildup. One study found that athletes who took 6 grams or about 1.5 teaspoons of MCTs with food before cycling had lower lactate levels and found it easier to exercise, compared to those taking LCTs.
Furthermore, the study found that taking MCT oil before exercise may help you use more fat instead of carbs for energy.
Even though MCTs can increase fat burning during exercise, study results are mixed as to whether MCT oil can help you exercise better.
One study showed it could improve swimming capacity in mice, but another human-based study found no improvement in endurance performance in runners.
At the very least, the results of one animal study suggest that MCT oil does not negatively affect exercise performance, which is encouraging.
SUMMARY: MCT oil can increase fat burning and reduce the need for carbs during exercise. However, it is unclear whether this translates to improved exercise performance.
4. Could Help Manage Epilepsy, Alzheimer’s Disease and Autism
Studies have shown that MCT oil and a ketogenic diet may help manage conditions such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and autism.
While the ketogenic diet has gained popularity amongst people wishing to lose weight, it was first introduced as a way of managing epilepsy.
Scientists found that fasting increases ketone production and that this may reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures.
Since MTCs can be converted into ketones, they may be beneficial in managing epilepsy.
However, the type of MCT may be important. One test-tube study showed that the MCT capric acid improved seizure control better than a widespread anti-epileptic drug.
Another study in rats found that the same MCT blocked receptors in the brain that cause seizures, though more human studies are needed.
In addition, it’s important to note that a ketogenic diet is not for everyone and can be challenging to follow long term.
If you are considering a ketogenic diet to help manage your epilepsy, talk to your doctor or nutrition professional first.
Alzheimer’s disease impairs your brain's ability to use sugar.
An MCT ketogenic diet offers an alternative energy source: ketones. This allows brain cells to survive better. It also blocks a receptor in the brain that causes memory loss.
One study found that a single dose of MCTs improved short-term cognition in 20 people with Alzheimer’s disease with a certain gene type, namely APOE ɛ4-negative.
While genetic factors play a role, evidence suggests that 20–70 grams of supplemental MCTs that include caprylic or capric acid can modestly improve the symptoms of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s.
Overall, the benefits of MCT oil in Alzheimer’s disease are promising, but longer and larger-scale studies are needed.
MCT oil may also help children with autism.
One study found positive overall improvements when a ketogenic diet was followed for 6 months.
Another study found that adding MCTs to a ketogenic and gluten-free diet substantially improved autism behaviors for 6 of the 15 children involved.
Because autism is a spectrum condition, it can affect people in different ways.
This means that adding MCT oil to your child’s diet may help to varying degrees or may show no positive effects. More research is needed here, as well.
If you are considering a ketogenic diet to help manage your child’s autism, talk to your doctor or nutrition professional first.
SUMMARY: MCT oil may improve brain function, which could have benefits for people with epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and autism.
5. Contains Powerful Fatty Acids That Fight Yeast and Bacterial Growth
MCTs have been shown to have antimicrobial and antifungal effects.
Coconut oil, which contains a large amount of MCTs, has been shown to reduce the growth of Candida albicans by 25%. This is a common yeast that can cause thrush and various skin infections.
A test-tube study also showed that coconut oil reduced the growth of disease-causing bacteria called Clostridium difficile.
Coconut oil’s ability to reduce yeast and bacterial growth may be due to the caprylic, capric and lauric acid in MCTs.
MCTs themselves have also been shown to suppress the growth of a widespread infectious fungus in hospitals by up to 50%.
However, note that most of the research on MCTs and immune support has been conducted via test-tube or animal studies. High-quality human studies are needed before stronger conclusions can be made.
SUMMARY: MCT oil contains fatty acids that have been shown to reduce the growth of yeast and bacteria. Overall, MCTs may have a variety of antimicrobial and antifungal effects.