What’s the Deal with MCT Oil?
MCT oil has made waves in the health and wellness industry in recent years, touting a wide range of benefits such as lowering cholesterol, increasing endurance during a workout, lowering blood glucose in diabetics, and improving fat absorption in people with gastrointestinal diseases.
What is MCT Oil?
MCT is short for medium-chain triglycerides, a type of saturated fat found in coconut oil, palm oil, and some dairy products. Coconut oil has the highest concentration with 55% of its fats being MCTs. The product MCT oil, found in many health stores, is manufactured by extracting medium-chain triglycerides from coconut oil or palm oil and purifying it so that only a flavorless, odorless oil remains.
What makes MCTs different from other fat is the way it is absorbed and metabolized in the body. Due to having a shorter chain than other fats, MCTs can be absorbed quickly and travel straight to the liver. The liver then converts the MCTs into a compound called ketones, which are an alternative source of energy. Their efficiency as an energy source makes them less likely to be stored as fat. Does this mean MCTs could potentially be used to assist weight loss? Keep reading to find out.
A Closer Look at Potential Benefits:
There are a combination of factors that researchers are studying with regard to how MCTs contribute to weight loss, including increasing the amount of calories burned and increasing fat loss, among others. A study from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that adults on a weight loss program who supplemented with 18-24 grams of MCT oil per day lost more fat mass and overall weight than those who supplemented with olive oil. However, it’s important to note that these results were modest as the MCT oil group only lost an average of 3.7 pounds more than the olive oil group.
High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. Roughly 93 million adults in the U.S. are living with high cholesterol levels, so there is a constant search for new strategies for reducing cholesterol. Currently, there is mixed evidence to support using MCT oil as a way to lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol.
One study showed that MCTs did not have any significant effect on cholesterol, glucose and insulin levels of participants over the course of 16 weeks. In contrast, another study found that women supplementing with coconut oil experienced lower LDL cholesterol levels (the “bad” cholesterol) and higher HDL cholesterol levels (the “good” cholesterol) than those supplementing with soybean oil.
Endurance During Exercise
Lactate is a compound produced during exercise as the body utilizes energy stores. As lactate builds up in the blood, you will become more fatigued. One study suggested that short-term MCT intake may reduce lactate build-up in the blood, thus increasing endurance. However, this was a small study with only 8 participants and further studies are needed to confirm these benefits.
All in all, the science on MCT oil and its potential benefits is still very new, and it is by no means a miracle supplement. An optimal dose has yet to be determined, but studies have used doses ranging from 0.34 to 5 tablespoons per day. If you’re interested in trying MCT oil, meet with a dietitian to discuss the best ways to incorporate it into your diet.
Written by: Emily Branch, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern