by Dr. Will Cole
Healthy fats from the foods we eat are essential to our trillions of cells for the optimal function of our brain, immune system, and hormones. This concept is nothing new. From a biological and evolutionary perspective, our bodies have always relied on fat for our existence.
Some of my favorite whole-food fats include olives, coconut, avocados, nuts, seeds, wild-caught fish, and grass-fed ghee. But my ultimate favorite fat-hack is MCT oil, which I use often in my functional medicine center.
What the heck is MCT oil?
Well, I am glad you asked! MCT stands for medium-chain triglycerides which are a super-special type of fats (or fatty acid) that are six to 12 carbons in length.
There are four main types of MCTs that are categorized by length:
- Capronic acid: 6 carbons (C6)
- Caprylic acid: 8 carbons (C8)
- Capric acid: 10 carbons (C10)
- Lauric acid: 12 carbons (C12)
Technically, lauric acid from a biology perspective, should actually be considered a long-chain triglyceride (LCT) not an MCT. Lauric acid is processed by your liver unlike MCTs that skip the longer pathway through the liver and are quickly converted into an energy source by our body. Think of lauric acid more like the really close cousin of the MCT family – always over at the house but not directly related.
In the modern Western diet, MCT fats are largely excluded. They are a type of saturated fat that are very easy for your body to break down for fuel unlike LCT (long-chain triglyceride) fats. In fact, from the very beginning we all relied on fat in the form of breast milk for energy and brain development. Even if you weren’t breastfed, MCT oil derived from palm and coconut oil is added to formulas to mimic breast milk.
MCT oils can be found in two forms: natural and synthetic. Natural MCTs are found in coconut oil, dairy fats, and palm kernel oil as well as certain foods. Two of my favorite sources are coconut oil and grass-fed ghee.
These foods include the percentages of MCTs found in the total amount of fats in each food:
- Coconut oil: 15 percent
- Palm kernel oil: 7.9 percent
- Cheese: 7.3 percent
- Milk: 6.9 percent
- Butter: 6.8 percent
- Yogurt: 6.6 percent
MCT oil is the pure source of these bioavailable fats.
What are the health benefits of MCT oil?
MCT oil and your brain
Research has shown that MCT oil can improve memory and overall brain health of people with brain problems like brain fog. It can even help people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, including those with the APOE4 gene which is linked to an increased risk factor for this condition.
MCT oil and ketosis
Including MCT oil in your diet is one way to help become a metabolic fat burner, or more commonly known as being in a state of ketosis. The secret to a healthy ketogenic diet is to cut carbs and increase the intake of healthy fats like MCT.
Coconut oil has also been shown to help sustain ketosis since it contains a specific MCT called lauric acid.
MCT oil and your immune system
Even though metabolically lauric acid is more similar to a long-chain fat and isn’t broken down as easily for energy, it has powerful antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal abilities. MCT can also work as a powerful antimicrobial by helping kill off pathogenic bacterial infections to promote a healthy microbiome balance.
MCT oil and your weight
In connection with their ability to improve ketosis, MCTs are superstars when it comes to weight loss. Let me count the ways MCT oils help reduce weight:
- They help you feel fuller quicker so you need to eat less.
- They increase your metabolic rate.
- They decrease the conversion of excess carbohydrates to fats.
After just a few weeks of using MCT oil, studies showed that people lost more weight around their waist and hips as well as more fat around their organs (visceral), when compared to people who consumed other types of healthy fats.
MCT oil and your kidneys
For patients with kidney issues, I often have them focus on oils and foods that are rich in MCTs. Medical literature has shown that MCTs found in coconut oil are ideal for people dealing with acute kidney failure.
MCT oil and exercise
If you want to take your workout to the next level, look no further than MCT oil. Supplementing with a blend of amino acids rich in leucine, vitamin D, and MCT oil can increase muscle strength. Additionally, research has shown that eating MCT-rich foods like coconut can increase a person’s ability to work out longer during high-intensity exercise.
MCT oil and omega absorption
It’s well known that omega fats from sources like wild-caught fish are super important for our brain, cardiovascular, hormone, brain, immune, and skin health. Studies have shown that the effects of DHA and EPA omega fats were enhanced when they were combined with MCT oils. Take advantage of that fat synergy!
MCT oil and blood sugar
Diabetes has grown to epidemic proportions. There are many tools I use to help patients with blood sugar issues, but MCTs are definitely one of my favorites! MCTs have the ability to increase insulin sensitivity and in turn, reverse insulin resistance and improve overall diabetes risk factors.
MCT and your liver
MCT oil and cholesterol
Healthy cholesterol levels are essential for optimal health. When looking at these though, we need to take into consideration context and quality of lipid levels. MCTs can lower cardiometabolic risk factors and LDL/HDL ratios.
How much MCT oil should I take?
One word of advice: Start off slowly. Too much can cause your stomach to cramp and lead to diarrhea. 1 teaspoon a day is a good starting point and you can work your way up to 2 to 3 tablespoons a day. MCT oil with more caprioic acid, C6, can cause more digestive problems for people who tend to have gastrointestinal issues. However, this short MCT is the best when it comes to energy bioavailability.
The short C8 carbon is more easily broken down which makes it ideal for brain fuel for those looking to optimize brain health. You can find MCT oil that is higher in caprylic acid, C8, or even exclusively caprylic acid. It also helps to fight off infections so it’s a win-win!
I always emphasize the importance of getting your nutrients in through food as much as possible, so make sure to include more coconuts and other MCT containing foods into your diet. Depending on the quality of coconut oil that you are purchasing it roughly consists of:
- Caprylic acid (C8): 6 percent of coconut oil
- Capric acid (C10): 9 percent of coconut oil
- Lauric acid (C12): 50-plus percent of coconut oil
Easily incorporate MCT oil into your diet by mixing it into:
- Salad dressings
- Bone broth
- Baked goods (if they are cooked under 300 degrees F)
I suggest only using coconut oil in its whole-food form to fry food with and not MCT oil.
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