What are medium chain triglycerides?
Triglyceride is another name for fat. Triglycerides are stored in the body as fat and broken down when there is energy requirement in the body.
The chemical structure of triglycerides is an important factor in the way it is metabolized. Depending on the number of carbon atoms, triglycerides are classified as either short, medium or long chain triglycerides.
- Short chain triglycerides (SCTs): less than 6 carbon atoms
- Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs): between 6 to 12 carbon atoms
- Long chain triglycerides (LCTs): More than 13 carbon atoms
Medium chain triglycerides or MCTs are fatty acids that are found in coconut oil. The fatty acid that is found in most other foods are the LCTs. LCTs move through the main digestive tract before being metabolized in the liver.
Since they have a shorter chain, MCTs are metabolized in a different way than LCTs. Unlike LCTs, MCTs bypass the main digestive tract and move straight to the liver, where they are broken down into ketones in three steps. This is the main reason behind the many health benefits of MCTs. The different health benefits of MCTs, including its role in weight loss, is discussed in detail in this article.
Quick Fact: MCTs bypass the digestive tract and travel directly to the liver, where they are metabolized to provide energy.
What are the different types of MCTs?
There are four different types of medium-chain triglycerides:
- C6: Caproic acid
- C8: Caprylic acid
- C10: Capric acid
- C12: Lauric acid
Quick Fact: The characteristic odor of coconut oil is due to caproic acid or C6 MCT. Caproic acid is removed from MCT oil, making it easy for it to blend with other foods.
What are the sources of MCTs?
Most foods contain the LCTs, which are the slow metabolizing fatty acids. The two key ways to increase the quantity of MCTs in the diet are:
- Whole food sources
- MCT oil supplements
Whole food sources of MCTs
The richest natural whole food sources of MCTs are:
- Coconut oil: More than 60%
- Palm oil: More than 50%
- Dairy products: 10-12%
However the individual amounts of MCTs in these sources vary. For example, the composition of different fatty acids in coconut oil are given below:
As shown in the table above the major MCT in coconut oil is lauric acid- the slowest MCT to get converted into ketones.
On the other hand, dairy products have a higher percentage of C6, C8, and C10 MCTs (4-12%) compared to lauric acid (2-5%).
Quick Fact: At 60%, coconut oil is the richest natural source of MCTs. However nearly all of that is comprised of the slow converting C12 MCT or lauric acid.
For an increased dose of the beneficial MCT, i.e, the C8 MCT, supplements are a good option. MCT oil is made by extracting MCTs from coconut or palm oil through a process called fractionation.
Usually MCT oil comprises of 100% C8 or 100% C10 MCT. Another type of supplement known as XCT oil, a brand name of Bulletproof, contains 50% C8 and 50% C10 MCT.
Processed MCT oil does not include the C6 MCT (caproic acid). Hence MCT oil is odorless, tasteless, and can be used in salad dressings, smoothies, and coffee. MCT oil is generally considered a better way to get MCTs than liquid coconut oil. This is primarily due to the fact that the major component of coconut oil is lauric acid, the longest MCT.
Experts have reasoned that it functions more like an LCT due its 12 carbon side chain. Research has shown that an addition of 2 carbon atoms to the fatty acid side chain can decrease the rate of diffusion by a factor of 100.
Why palm oil is not a desirable source of MCTs
Although there are no functional differences between the MCT oil extracted from coconut oil and palm oil, there are environmental concerns. Production of palm oil has lead to large-scale deforestation of tropical areas. Studies have shown that this accounts for more than 10% of the global carbon dioxide emissions. Further, deforestation has lead to loss of habitat of orangutans.
AIWO’s C8 MCT oil is sourced from organic coconuts and is completely palm free.
How are Medium-Chain Triglycerides Metabolized?
Due to their shorter chain length, MCTs are metabolized faster than the long chain fatty acids. MCTs move straight to the liver, where they are broken down into ketones. Hence there is greater efficiency in the way MCTs are processed leading to faster production of energy.
Additionally, ketones, the end-result of fatty acid metabolism, can cross the blood-brain barrier. Ketones are a great source of instant fuel to the brain, which usually relies on glucose.
What are the advantages of using fat as a source of energy?
- The body is forced to use the fat stores for energy; this leads to weight loss.
- Unlike carbs, fatty acid metabolism does not cause an increase in blood sugar levels.
- Fatty acid metabolism does not increase the blood insulin levels.
- Helps individuals attain the state of ketosis.
- MCTs are more likely to be used up for energy, and less likely to get stored as fat.
Quick Fact: MCTs do not require bile from the liver to get digested.
What are the uses and benefits of medium chain triglycerides?
Some of the benefits of medium chain triglycerides:
- Weight loss
- Instant energy source
- Reduces build-up of lactate in athletes
- Management of epilepsy, autism, and Alzheimer’s disease
- Improves gut health
- Reduces risk of heart disease
- Helps in the management of diabetes
How do MCTs help in weight loss?
MCTs play an important role in weight loss. Some of the reasons are listed below:
- Increases satiety
- Less likely to be stored as fat
- Low energy density
- Greater efficiency in being metabolized.
- Increased fat loss
- Ketogenic diet
MCT oil is known to promote the secretion of two hormones related to increased satiety and reduced appetite: peptide YY and leptin.
Less likely to be stored as fat
Since MCTs are metabolized very efficiently, they are more likely to be converted to ketones than get deposited in the fat stores.
Low energy density
MCTs provide around 8.4 calories of energy per gram of MCT; LCTs provide 9.2 calories for the same amount.
>Keto diets is a low-carb, medium protein, and high fat diet. MCT oil is often included while designing a keto diet to make the body more efficient in burning fat, and to achieve ketosis.
Quick Fact: MCTs reduce appetite since it promotes the secretion of leptin and peptide YY- hormones which are linked to increased satiety.
MCTs and their role in brain function
Ketones are a great alternative source of energy for the brain, and MCTs produce them very efficiently. Hence MCTs can improve brain function.
Due to this there has been further investigation into the possible use of MCTs in treating neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
However more research is needed to further support this association.
Dosing and possible side effects of MCTs
Aside from minor side effects like nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting, MCTs are generally well-tolerated and are considered safe to consume.
To avoid side effects, first-time users are recommended to take 1 teaspoon per day and gradually increase the quantities as the body gets accustomed.
Due to the production of ketones, individuals with type 1 diabetes are discouraged from consuming MCT oil since it may increase the risk of ketoacidosis.