What are MCTs?
MCTs, or medium chain triglycerides, are the new hot topic in the health and fitness industry. While, I’m typically not a fan of fads or trends this wave is something I can get behind. MCTs are a type of saturated fat which are metabolized differently than long chain fatty acids (LCTs). As a result, MCTs are broken down and utilized much more rapidly than any other type of fat. Evidence-based health benefits from MCTs include increased energy, improved brain function, increased energy expenditure and even anti-microbial properties!
How do they work?
Traditionally, long chain fatty acids contain 13-21 carbons and are broken down slowly throughout the body. MCTs on the other hand contain 6-12 carbons in length and are broken down almost immediately by the liver. This unique function enables them to provide a quick source of energy as well as be turned into ketone bodies which may be beneficial for general health or those following a ketogenic diet. Ultimately, it appears that the shorter carbon length enables MCTs to be broken down faster and utilized faster compared to most fats.
What are the different Types of MCTs
As previously mentioned MCTs range from 6-12 carbons in length each serving a slightly different function as a result. The four different types of MCTs include:
- C6 Caproic acid
- C8 Caprylic acid
- C10 Capri acid
- C12 Lauric acid
So, if you’re currently trying to figure out which one may be the most effective at increasing energy and ketone levels and you’re following the logic of what makes MCT’s superior you may select C6. You’re not exactly wrong, C6 does have the shortest amount of carbons, however, it also tastes the worst and is typically not sought after in the supplement form. C8 and C10 appear to be the most effective at increasing energy levels and ketone production. Research has shown when compared to C12, C8 and C10 increase ketone levels to a greater degree (1). This makes sense as your increasing the carbon length its ability to be metabolized quickly will likely be compromised. C12 on the other hand does appear to have some unique health benefits on its own. C12 has been shown to have anti-microbial properties which may boost your immune system and improve gut health (2)!
What does the research say?
In regard to weight loss Dullo et al., (1996) examined the acute response to MCT’s on energy expenditure in eight healthy young men. These researchers showed that just 15-30g a day of MCTs increased energy expenditure by 5%! The potential fat burning effects of MCTs are likely attributed to their activation of the sympathetic nervous system (3). Additionally, Stubbs et al., (1996) reported that consuming a diet rich in MCTs increased satiety and decreased ad libitum calorie expenditure (4). This increased satiety can have multiple benefits first off increased satiety may allow you to stay more focused throughout meals and help you get more work done on the job! Additionally, greater satiety as referenced by the aforementioned study will likely decrease calorie consumption and lead to weight loss over time.
In regard to functioning as anti-microbial agents Kabara et al., (1972) examined the effects of 30 different fatty acids and their bactericidal properties. These researchers conclude that C12 demonstrated the strongest anti-microbial properties out of all the fats investigated (5)! Lastly, MCTs appear to have a strong effect on individuals who have neurodegenerative diseases. The proper utilization of glucose is a common issue in many brain related disorders. Ketones possess the unique ability and cross the blood brain barrier and act as a secondary fuel source and have been shown to improve symptoms of individuals with mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. As MCTs are broken down in the liver and increase ketone production researchers theorized that supplemental or additional MCTs could help fix the energy deficit in the brain for those with neurological disorders. Reger, et al., (2004) examined this directly and demonstrated that supplemental MCTs increased ketone levels and improved cognitive measures as early as 90 minutes after supplementation in memory impaired adults (6)!
Where can you find MCTs?
In food MCTs are most present in coconuts and whole dairy sources. For more concentrated sources you can consume MCTs in the form of coconut oil. Recently, after the development of MCT based research producers have created MCT oil and MCT powder! MCT oil is effective and goes great with coffee. However, some individuals express gastro intestinal issues following consumption. In that case MCT powder is another effective option.
Top Ways to Increase MCT consumption
- Coconut oil
- MCT oil
- MCT bars
- MCT powder
- Palm kernel oil
- Whole milk
In conclusion MCTs are a type of saturated fats that are broken down different to most fats due to their smaller carbon length. As a result, MCTs have some impressive health benefits for a variety of populations! It is now becoming easier and easily to implement MCTs into your diet through coconut oil, MCT oil and now MCT powder!
1.) Vandenberghe, C., St-Pierre, V., Pierotti, T., Fortier, M., Brodeur-Dubreuil, C., Cunnane, S.C. (2016). Acute plasma ketone response to coconut oil alone or in combination with different medium chain triglycerides. ISSFAL Congress, Banf Canada, Poster Presentation
2.) Shilling, M., Matt, L., Rubin, E., Visitacion, M. P., Haller, N. A., Grey, S. F., & Woolverton, C. J. (2013). Antimicrobial effects of virgin coconut oil and its medium-chain fatty acids on Clostridium difficile. Journal of medicinal food, 16(12), 1079-1085.
3.) Dulloo, A. G., Fathi, M., Mensi, N., & Girardier, L. (1996). Twenty-four-hour energy expenditure and urinary catecholamines of humans consuming low-to-moderate amounts of medium-chain triglycerides: a dose-response study in a human respiratory chamber. European journal of clinical nutrition, 50(3), 152-158.
4.) Stubbs, R. J., & Harbron, C. G. (1996). Covert manipulation of the ratio of medium-to long-chain triglycerides in isoenergetically dense diets: effect on food intake in ad libitum feeding men. International journal of obesity and related metabolic disorders: journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 20(5), 435-444.
5.) Kabara, J. J., Swieczkowski, D. M., Conley, A. J., & Truant, J. P. (1972). Fatty acids and derivatives as antimicrobial agents. Antimicrobial agents and chemotherapy, 2(1), 23-28
6.) Reger, M. A., Henderson, S. T., Hale, C., Cholerton, B., Baker, L. D., Watson, G. S., ... & Craft, S. (2004). Effects of β-hydroxybutyrate on cognition in memory-impaired adults. Neurobiology of aging, 25(3), 311-314.