MCT oil offers some interesting benefits for health and mental and athletic performance.
‘MCT’ refers to medium-chain triglycerides, this means the fats contained are of medium-length chains. This is an important factor in digestion, as medium-length chains are more easily digested compared to long chain fatty acids which are most common in foodstuffs. After digestion, MCTs are transported directly to the liver to be metabolised, after which they are immediately transported to cells to be used as an energy source, making them an efficient source for energy production.
MCT oil is produced as a supplemental form, for optimal benefits. Four different types of MCTs exist, of which caprylic and capric acid are most commonly used in MCT oils. MCT fats can be found naturally in palm oil, butter and cheese. Oil in MCT products is also commonly extracted from coconut oil. Coconut oil derivatives in MCT products are preferential to coconut oil in its original state because coconut oil lacks beneficial MCTs like C8 [i].
Ketone bodies are molecules that contain the ketone groups produced from fatty acids by the liver. They are transported into tissues outside the liver, where they are converted into acetyl-CoA. Acetyl-CoA then enters the citric acid cycle to produce energy for cells in the place of glucose, which is the primary fuel source for cellular energy production.
MCT oil has been found to promote weight loss by converting more readily than other fats into ketones. These ketones are then used as fuel for the body and may result in increased weight loss when taken in conjunction with a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet.
A study was designed to investigate the impact of medium and long chain triglycerides consumption on appetite and food intake in overweight men. It was found that MCT oil consumption reduced food intake, this was thought to be due to a change in hormones promoting satiety [ii].
Another study revealed the ability of MCTs to lower levels of fat in the blood and liver after eating (postprandial triacylglycerol elevation). This double-blind, randomised trial, MCTs were compared to with equivalent intakes of long-chain triacylglycerols. The study was performed on insulin-resistant men and women. Triacylglycerols are the major form of dietary lipid in fats and oils, whether derived from plants or animals. The capacity of MCTs to lower these levels of fats may be useful in the prevention and treatment of obesity and other related metabolic conditions, such as high cholesterol and diabetes [iii]. A lower rise in triglycerides may also suppress appetite.
Energy, Mental and Physical Performance:
MCT is used in sports training due to its propensity to provide rapid energy release to improve stamina and endurance [iv].
MCT could reduce lactate buildup in athletes and extend the duration of high-intensity exercise [v].
MCT oil has been found to raise beneficial high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (known as the bad type of cholesterol). It also lowered other blood lipids associated with the development of cardiovascular disease such as heart disease [vi].
Furthermore, MCT oil has been shown to support weight and fat loss, which also reduces risk for heart disease [vii].
Studies have found the consumption of MCT oil as part of a weight-loss plan improves weight loss compared with olive oil and can thus be successfully included in a weight-loss diet. Small changes in the quality of fat intake can therefore be useful to enhance weight loss. The reduction in cholesterol in overweight men was higher in those provided MCT oil than those provided olive oil. Reductions in LDL (bad) cholesterol were also seen with applications of MCT oil [viii] [ix].
Mental Decline; Dementia and Alzheimer’s:
Type 2 diabetes has been linked with the development of Alzheimer's disease. This is thought to be due insulin resistance in the brain. This could result in damage to the synapses and brain cells and the production of cellular energy (mitochondrial metabolism). When glucose is not utilised properly for energy by the brain cells, this can predispose the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms. Amyloid-β plaque accumulation is key in the progression of Alzheimer’s, this plaque has been linked to impaired insulin utilisation. Therefore, from recent research, it is hypothesised that the shift from glucose metabolism to ketone metabolism may be a reasonable pathway for protection of brain cells. Thus, to promote ketone metabolism, medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil and a ketogenic diet has been proposed as an alternative source of energy in the brain of AD patients [x].
Certain components of MCT oil such as caprylic acid, can fight yeast and bacterial infections which supports balance in the microbiome [xi].
In recent times, the ketogenic diet has gained popularity as a weight loss diet or to support work outs, however it was first introduced around 100 years ago as a way of managing epilepsy. One test tube study demonstrated that the MCT capric acid improved seizure control better than a common anti-epileptic drug [xii]. Additionally, another study in rats found that the same capric acid blocked receptors in the brain that can cause seizures [xiii].
For epilepsy, a ketogenic diet incorporating MCT oil (MCTKD) has been proposed as an effective alternative for standard ketogenic diets, modified Atkins diet or low glycemic index treatment [xiv] [xv].
It is worth considering that ketogenic diets can be challenging to follow long term, it also may not be safe for everyone. It is recommended that such diets are practised under supervision of a qualified practitioner.
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