Medium chain triglycerides (MCT’s) are a type of fat found in coconut oil or palm oil. The name refers to the chemical structure and how the carbon atoms are made up. There are four different types of MCTs known as Caproic acid (C6), Caprylic acid (C8), Capric acid (C10) and Lauric acid with C8 and C10 specifically being thought of as the most active. There is no established Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) for Medium Chain Triglycerides.
Medium chain triglycerides are processed differently in the body to long-chain fatty acids. Unlike other fats, they go straight from the gut to the liver and as a result, energy expenditure is greatly increased. Because of this, MCT’s are used to overcome issues such as fat malabsorption and digestive problems due to a lack of digestive enzymes made by the pancreas. MCT’s are also sometimes used in preterm infant formulas due to the digestive system not being fully mature. The benefits of MCFA and MCT oil have been associated with weight loss, suppressed appetite, improved cognitive function and digestive function and increased stamina.
Weight Loss– Long-term clinical trials have demonstrated that MCT results in less body fat accumulation in humans. One study involving forty-nine overweight men and women aged 19-50 years who received either 18-24 g/d of MCT oil or olive oil as part of a weight-loss program for 16 weeks showed the MCT group experienced lower endpoint body weight compared to the olive oil group (1). Furthermore, one study of rats fed an MCT diet or an isocaloric diet containing long chain triglyceride (LCT) for 6 weeks showed the MCT rats gained 15% less weight than LCT controls as a result of increased metabolic rate and thermogenesis (2).
Alzheimers’s disease and cognitive function-Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are metabolized to ketone bodies that serve as an alternative source of energy for brain cells (neurons). Supplements providing 20-70 g/day of medium-chain triglycerides have been shown to increase ketone availability to the brain via moderate nutritional ketosis resulting in a modest beneficial effect on cognitive outcomes in mild-to-moderate AD and in mild cognitive impairment (3).
Anti-microbial activity– MCT have also been associated with antimicrobial properties. One study showed both MCT and MCFA to exert antimicrobial effects on the gastrointestinal tract of breastfeeding newborn infants and contributed to the reduction of the transmission of pathogens (4), (5), (6). Furthermore, MCT and MCFA have also been shown to reduce the replication of certain species of Malassezia, an infectious fungus widespread in hospitals (7).
Physical performance –MCT is also associated with increased stamina and improved physical performance (8). A study which looked to evaluate the swimming endurance capacity of mice following chronic consumption of medium-chain triglycerides suggested that MCT consumption enhanced the swimming capacity in mice (9).
Weight Loss- Medium Chain Triglycerides are associated with increased metabolic rate and thermogenesis and therefore a supplement may be beneficial for those who are looking to achieve weight loss.
Enhanced stamina and endurance- MCT’s are associated with increased stamina and improved physical performance due to the ability of MCT’s to preserve glycogen stores which may prove beneficial for those partaking in sports and exercise activities.
Alzheimer’s Disease- MCT’s have been shown to have a beneficial effect on cognitive function in those with Alzheimer’s Disease and therefore may be beneficial in improving cognitive function and outcomes in Alzheimer’s patients.
MCTs are considered to be safe for most people when taken orally however they can digestive upset in some individuals which may include diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea, stomach discomfort and intestinal gas. Other side effects may include essential fatty acid deficiency and irritability. It is believed that taking MCT’s with food may help to reduce some side effects. There is no established Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Medium Chain Triglycerides.