The Benefits of Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs)

                                               (Beneficial for weight loss, workouts and athletic performance) 

What are MCTs?

      Just as proteins are made from smaller units called amino acids and carbohydrates are made from smaller units called saccharides, fats are made from smaller units called fatty acids which are chains of carbon atoms placed next to one another with hydrogen atoms connected to them.  A saturated fatty acid is one that has all its carbon atoms arranged in a straight line one next to another with each carbon atom having one hydrogen atom above it and one hydrogen atom below it. 

       The carbon chain of saturated fatty acids can be anywhere from 6 to 21 carbon atoms long. Fatty acids with less than 6 carbon chains are classified as unsaturated fatty acids and have different carbon/hydrogen atom arrangements than do saturated fats. Examples of these kinds of fatty acids are omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids found in flax and fish oils.

       Triglycerides are fats made up primarily of saturated fatty acids.  Triglycerides are the major form of dietary and body fat.  Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) are triglycerides made up of 6 to 10 carbon chains. This is why they are called medium chain triglycerides as opposed to the much longer chain triglycerides found in most dietary fat and in the fat content of our body.

       The lower the numbers of carbon chains, the faster a fatty acid is metabolized by the body.  Because MCTs have the shortest carbon/hydrogen chains of saturated fats, they are metabolized and utilized at a faster rate by the body than triglycerides with longer chains.  The shortest MCT is caproic acid which has six carbon chains. Caprylic acid has eight carbon chains, capric acid has 10 carbon chains and lauric acid has 12 carbon chains.  These acids are known as C6, C8, C10 and C12. 

       MCTs have fewer calories per gram than long chain triglycerides (LCTs). LCTs have 9 calories per gram while MCTs have around 8.3 calories per gram. MCTs are quickly processed by the liver and delivered to cellular mitochondria.  Mitochondria are where adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is produced which is the basic energy molecule made in the body. Therefore, MCTs provide a quick source of fuel for the production of energy. 

MCTs and weight loss:      

       Reduced carbohydrate consumption accompanied by increased consumption of fats in the diet will create the conditions necessary for the body to utilize stored fat for energy. This is sometimes referred to as the ketogenic diet. As discussed above, MCTs go straight to the liver for processing. The liver converts them to three different soluble chemical elements called ketone bodies. These ketone bodies are released into the bloodstream and travel to body tissues where they are used for fuel to create energy.  This utilization of MCTs by the liver to produce ketones has been shown to enhance the conversion of stored body fat to ketones as well.  This results in the loss of stored body fat and an overall reduction in body weight.

       In a study where rats were fed MCTs or LCTs, the MCTs fed rats lost significant weight compared to the LCTs fed rats even though their calorie intake was the same as the rats fed LCTs.  It was also noted that the MCTs fed rats had a better survival rate.  In another study, fat deposits in rats fed diets high in MCTs were seen to be 23 percent less than rats fed a LCTs diet.

       A study reported in The American Journal of Clinical Nutritional in 2008 showed that during a four week period, nineteen overweight men who consumed a calorie controlled diet high in MCTs as opposed to a diet high in LCTs experienced a 66% greater reduction in bodyweight, increased energy expenditure, and increased fat oxidation.

       In an article published in 2007 from the National Center for Biotechnology, thirty-one overweight males and females consumed either 18 to 24g of MCTs oil or oil high in LCTs for 16 continuous weeks. Those who consumed MCTs oil lost 1.7 more kilograms of weight, more total fat mass, trunk fat mass, and intra-abdominal fat tissue.

MCTs and Athletic Performance:

       Glucose from the breakdown of carbohydrate is the primary fuel used by the body to make the energy molecule ATP.  When glucose levels become depleted as can occur during intense workouts or athletic activity, stored triglyceride fat is processed by the liver to produce energy and in the process ketones are created.  These ketones are used by the body to fuel the production of ATP until more glucose becomes available. Because MCTs are more rapidly processed by the liver into ketones than is true of LCTs, MCTs are valuable in providing readily available fuel for the energy making process when glucose is depleted.       

       In one study, recreational cyclists who consumed foods containing six grams of MCTs for two weeks could bike for longer periods of time before reaching exhaustion compared to those consuming equivalent amount of LCTs.

       In swimming endurance tests, mice fed a diet rich in MCTs outperformed mice fed a diet rich in LCTs.  The muscles of the mice fed the MCTs produced higher levels of key enzymes involved in the energy making process.  The mice fed the MCTs were shown to burn fat at a faster rate than those fed the LCTs.

Sources of MCTs:

       MCTs are found in milk, coconut oil and palm kernel oil.  Coconut oil comes from the coconuts grown on coconut palm trees whereas palm kernel oil comes from the seed of the oil palm, a different variety of palm.   Milk and milk products such as butter, cheese, yogurt and kefir are sources of MCTs.  However, products made from milk must be made from whole milk and not from reduced fat or skim milk in order for MCTs to be present.  Goat milk and products made from goat milk are particularity high in C6 through C10 MCTs. 

       Coconut oil and palm kernel oil are the riches sources of dietary MCTs.  Coconut oil contains 5-9% caprylic (C8), 6-10% capric acid (C10) and around 50 percent lauric acid (C12).  Palm Kernel oil contains around half as much C8 and C10 and about the same amount of C12. Both these oils contain only trace amounts of caproic acid (C6).

       The MCT lauric acid is metabolized much like longer chain fatty acids and therefore will not produce much of a ketogenic effect. However, lauric acid has been shown to inactivate a number of microbes such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and even candida. 

       Research has shown that C8 is the most ketogenic MCT.  C8 MCTs have been shown to improve cognitive function in those suffering from Alzheimer’s and other cognitive impairments.  C8 MCTs have been found to be effective in treating epileptic seizures. This appears to be related to their ketogenic effect where the brain uses ketones for fuel as opposed to glucose.

Supplementation with MCTs:

       MCTs are available as a supplement. Supplemental MCTs are made by a process called lipid fractionation where selected MCTs are extracted from coconut and palm kernel oils. At Milk ‘N Honey we carry MCT oil from Now Company and from Garden of Life.  Now’s product is a blend of C8 and C10 from coconut and palm kernel oils.  The MCTs from garden of Life are all from organic coconut oil and are a blend of primarily C8 and C10 with a small amount of C12.