MCT oil is hot right now. Everyone wants to know what it is, what it does, and where they can get some. Let’s take a closer look at MCT oil and try to separate fact from fiction so you can use MCT oil properly without falling victim to some of the dogma.
I first heard about MCT when the bulletproof coffee craze was taking effect.
“What is this new coffee recipe? Wait, people are putting butter in their coffee? Wait, they’re putting some sort of oil in their coffee on top of that?”
That was my basic thought process.
Then I tried it and felt the effects. It was no joke. Of course, most of the “effect” you feel from bulletproof coffee comes from the MCT oil, so I want to do a complete breakdown on this hot topic and get you up to speed.
What is MCT Oil (not “MTC” oil)?
You can think of MCT oil as a concentrated form of coconut oil. The extremely healthy saturated fat in coconut is comprised of Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT).
MCT oil is a concentrated form of that fat. It ends up being anywhere from four to six times stronger than eating straight coconut oil.
The reason I’m so interested in MCT oil is two-fold: it’s uniquely metabolized and it’s easily digested. I’ll take a look at these two benefits later. First, let’s talk about two specific types of MCTs that are found in coconut oil and founder in greater concentration in retail MCT oils.
Caproic Acid isn’t found in very high concentrations in coconut oil, but it converts very quickly to ketones after ingestion. The problem is that retail MCT oils that have a high concentration of caproic acid tend to taste bad and cause more of the stomach upset that many people report. It’s not one of “prized” types of MCTs.
Caprylic Acid bypasses the liver and is reportedly the fastest MCT to metabolize in the brain and body. According to some research, caprylic acid has antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. It’s found at a concentration of about 6% in coconut oil, but it’s higher expense means that many retail MCT oils don’t contain high amounts of caprylic acid.
Capric Acid is slower to turn into energy, but it’s more affordable to extract than caprylic acid. It also may be the most potent for treating candida, according to some research. It’s found at about 9% concentration in coconut oil.
The results show that capric acid, a 10-carbon saturated fatty acid, causes the fastest and most effective killing of all three strains of C. albicans tested.
That quote is from the study: In Vitro Killing of Candida albicans by Fatty Acids and Monoglycerides
Lauric Acid – The MCT That’s Not Really an MCT
Lauric Acid’s concentration in coconut oil is around 50%. It’s often lumped in with talk about MCTs (and likely heavily used in cheaper MCT oil products) but lauric acid must be processed by the liver. This makes it behave more like a long-chain (LCT) fat.
Lauric Acid does have some of the touted benefits of other MCTs, but not to the same degree. If you want to get a lot of Lauric Acid, just eat coconut oil. If you’re going to invest in MCT oil specifically, make sure you’re purchasing MCT oil that focus mostly on capric acid and caprylic acid.
MCT Oil vs Coconut Oil: What’s the Difference Then?
Coconut oil, like most retail MCT oil products, contains a variety of MCTs. The main difference is that higher quality retail MCT oils contain a larger percentage of the more desirable MCTs, such as caprylic acid and capric acid.
In order to get the same quantity of MCTs from coconut oil as you do from retail MCT oils, you’d have to be 6X+ the quantity. So, using retail MCT oils is simply a more efficient and practical way of achieving the benefits of MCT oil consumption.
What Are the Benefits of MCT Oil?
There are a lot of benefits to MCT oil, just as there are with coconut oil. Here are some of the main benefits that you might expect to experience when you start using MCT oil…
Quick Energy Boost
The body is very efficient at metabolizing and digesting MCTs. They don’t require bile salts for digestion and they pass easily from the GI tract to the blood stream without being modified the way long-chain fats must be.
Instead of being metabolized through the digestion process like other fats are, MCTs are taken straight to the liver where they act very similar to carbohydrates.
This provides almost instant energy. And yes, it’s a significant boost. You’ll absolutely feel it. It kind of feels like you gave your body rocket fuel.
But it’s not just the energy you get that’s interesting…
Blood Sugar, Metabolism, Appetite, and More…
MCTs improve blood sugar regulation (yay!), improve metabolism (especially fat metabolism), may improve thyroid function, improve appetite regulation, and are used to treat many ailments (Diabetes, Alzheimer’s, seizures, cystic fibrosis, etc.).
For those reasons, it may be a good supplement for aiding weight loss. However, it’s not a magic pill in this regard. Research demonstrating weight loss caused directly form the consumption of MCT oil alone is inconsistent.
As far as brain function goes, MCT oil feels like rocket fuel because it enhances ketone production. Ketones are a more efficient fuel for your brain (which is why some people report clearer thinking on a ketogenic diet).
For productivity, using MCTs to outwork my competition is one of my unfair advantages.
The reason something like bulletproof coffee works so well for energy is that it combines MCTs with longer chain fats. This gives you the rocket boost up front (from the MCTs) with a sustained, diesel-fuel-like energy that lasts for hours on end (from the longer-chain fats).
What Are the [Negative] Side Effects of MCT Oil?
It’s mostly rainbows and unicorn farts, fortunately. But, there are a couple downsides to concentrated MCT oil.
First, MCT oil can certainly raise your cholesterol. Whether or not this actually means anything in real-world application is something you’ll have to decide on your own. The research on cholesterol is vehemently torn and the camps have become rather dogmatic.
As far as day to day consequences, consuming too much MCT oil can cause gastrointestinal distress. This is known by many as “disaster pants.”
If you’re not experienced with MCT oil consumption, take it very slow. I won’t tiptoe around this – if you consume too much at once (for some people that’s a teaspoon or two), you put yourself at high risk of shitting yourself.
It’s not a pleasant feeling. It comes with intense stomach cramps and burning – not a good look.
Is MCT Powder the Same as MCT Oil?
Kind of. The production process of MCT powder is the same as how protein powders are made – a process called spray drying.
The one caveat to MCT powder is that it’s is generally cut with starches and milk proteins, ingredients the pure oils will not have.
Since starches can spike blood sugar and raise insulin, the powders are typically not recommended for those following a ketogenic diet unless you use something like Perfect Keto MCT Oil Powder which uses acacia fiber instead of starchy fillers.
The main benefit to powders is that they’re easier to travel with and many people report that they don’t get the same gastrointestinal distress that’s often reported with liquid MCT oil.
How to Use MCT Oil in Daily Life…
We’ve put together a free companion “cheat sheet” for this article that will show you:
- How to best consume MCT oil (did you know you can use it when you cook?).
- A process for easing into it so you don’t have “disaster pants” (you can’t just dive in, friends!)
- The five best brands and sources of MCT oil that we recommend (not all of the brands available on the market are legit!).
As I said, the cheat sheet is totally free. Just tell us where to send it…
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Founder of Rebooted Body and host of The Rebooted Body Podcast. Kevin helps men and women finally get a body and life they love with his unique blend of real food, functional movement, and psychology. To work with him personally, choose a program.