MCTs: Hype or Healthy?

So far in our Hype or Healthy series, we’ve covered collagen, hyaluronic acid, omega-6 fatty acids, and probiotics. We like to offer you a look at what the research really says about these popular supplements. Are they just fads? Or does evidence back them up?

Today we’re going to take a closer look at medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). If you’ve been wondering what MCTs are, the benefits they offer, and what the research says about them, keep reading!

What are MCTs?

Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are a type of saturated fat that our bodies metabolize a bit differently than long-chain triglycerides. “Triglyceride” is just a technical name for fat, and fats are used for two purposes in the body: they can be transported into your cells and used for energy, or your body can store them as fat.

As their name implies, MCTs have a shorter chain length than other types of fatty acids you eat.  Specifically, they have more carbons in their molecular structure than long-chain triglycerides. Since they are shorter, they are broken down quickly and absorbed by your body faster.

They go directly to your liver where they can be turned into fast energy, or they are converted into ketones. When the liver breaks down fat, ketones are produced.  Our brains usually use glucose (i.e., sugar) for energy, but when ample amounts of ketones are available, they are an easy-to-absorb, alternative form of energy.

Since your body can quickly and efficiently turn these types of fats into energy, your body is less likely to store them as fat.



Potential Benefits of MCTs and What the Research Says

While proponents of MCTs, in oil, powder, and food form, claim that they offer many benefits, it’s essential to look at what the research really says about these claims.

Some of the potential benefits of MCTs may include…

Weight Loss Aid

Multiple studies have found that MCTs may be beneficial for those trying to lose weight. Studies have shown that they can increase the release of leptin and peptide YY, two hormones that make you feel full. Another study has found that MCT oil helped to reduce body weight. Of course, it’s also important to note that while multiple studies do show that MCTs have an impact on weight loss, a meta-analysis also pointed out that some research shows they have no effect.


Improved Exercise Performance

Since MCTs are used quickly by the body, some believe that they can increase energy levels enough to improve exercise performance. For example, researchers observed that consuming food with MCTs regularly allowed athletes to exercise at high intensities longer.


May Help Lower Cholesterol

MCTs may also play a part in helping to lower cholesterol, which can protect heart health. One 2009 study found that women who consumed coconut oil (which contains MCTs) enjoyed lower levels of bad cholesterol and higher levels of good cholesterol.


Help to Control Blood Sugar Levels

Getting more MCTs may help manage and improve blood sugar levels. A study done in 2007 found that increased MCTs helped enhance insulin resistance and other risk factors in individuals with type 2 diabetes.

Improved Brain Function – Recently, there’s been a lot of interest in using MCTs to treat disorders of the brain. A major study found that the use of MCTs resulted in improvement in brain processing, memory, and learning. However, this evidence is limited to only a few short studies that had small sample sizes, so additional research is needed.


How to Get More MCTs in Your Diet

It’s possible to purchase MCT oil supplements, but you can also work on consuming more MCTs as a part of your diet.

You’ll find MCTs in foods like…

  • Milk
  • Coconut oil
  • Butter
  • Palm kernel oil
  • Cheeses
  • Full fat yogurt


The Bottom Line

Getting MCTs from MCT oil or dietary sources may offer some health benefits. There’s some substantial evidence to show it may aid in weight loss, lower cholesterol, and even help balance blood sugar. For other potential uses and benefits, the jury’s still out.

One of the crucial things to remember is that when you’re consuming MCTs – even if they offer some health benefits – you’re still consuming fats. They add extra calories and fats to your diet, so using them excessively may not provide benefits and could even result in weight gain.

Remember to eat a balanced diet and consult your physician for specific recommendations for your health.

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