MCT Oil The Ultimate Guide – What is it? The Benefits & How To Use

It’s understandable that people might be feeling a bit jaded and cynical whenever a (self-professed) health and fitness expert starts talking about the latest “super food”.  Frankly, there are a lot of products out there, which get a whole lot more marketing attention than they arguably deserve.  At the same time, however, there genuinely are some super foods out there everyone should know about and in our opinion, MCT oil is one of them.

The basics of MCTs

MCT stands for medium-chain triglycerides, but if the term’s new to you, that probably isn’t a lot of help right now, so let’s take a step back.

All fats are made up of a combination of carbon atoms and hydrogen atoms.  What makes each type of fat individual is how these atoms are structured into molecules.  Short-chain fats are ones which have a maximum of five carbon atoms and long-chain fats are ones which have a minimum of 13 carbon atoms (and a maximum of 21).  As you’ve probably worked out by now, medium-chain fats are the ones in the middle with 6 to 12 carbon atoms.

These are:

Caproic acid (also called hexanoic acid or C6:0)

Caprylic acid (also called octanoic acid or C8:0)

Capric acid (also called decanoic acid or C10:0)

plus

Lauric acid (also called dodecanoic acid or C12:0)

The reason why we’ve split out Lauric acid from the other three acids is that it actually behaves like an LCT and hence, for practical purposes, is best thought of and treated as such.

what is mct oil

MCTs in detail

Now that you’ve grasped the basics of MCTs, it’s time to look at them a little more closely.

Caproic acid (also called hexanoic acid or C6:0)

Caproic acid is a true MCT, but it’s not one you want to include in your daily diet if you can avoid it, because its main property is that it converts super-quickly to ketones, which is the acid formed when the body consumes its own fat.  In other words, all C6 is likely to give you is an upset stomach, which might at least take your mind off the taste.

Caprylic acid (also called octanoic acid or C8:0)

Caprylic acid has great antimicrobial properties and is absorbed by the body at frankly blistering speed.  To put this into context, Caprylic acid can be turned into Adenosine Triphosphate (fuel for energy transfer between cells) in just three steps, whereas sugar takes 26.

Capric acid (also called decanoic acid or C10:0)

Capric acid has much the same properties as Caprylic acid, but its longer structure means that it needs a bit more time to be absorbed by the body.  It does, however, have the advantage of being more affordable than pure C8.

Lauric acid (also called dodecanoic acid or C12:0)

Lauric acid has good antibacterial properties, although not as good as C8 or C10.  The human body can convert Lauric acid to monolaurin, which has outstanding antiviral and antibacterial qualities, but only in very small quantities.  In other words, be very suspicious of any advertising which suggests that Lauric acid should be considered to be the same as monolaurin.  It’s not.

The major difference between Lauric acid and the true MCTs is that Lauric acid needs to be processed by the liver in the same way as LCTs (and indeed SCTs), whereas the true MCTs bypass the liver, which is why they’re absorbed by the body so quickly.

mct oil versus coconut oil

Sources of MCTs

If you have heard of MCTs, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard of them in connection with coconut oil, which is often marketed as an effective and affordable way of integrating MCTs into your diet.  This is technically true - but also very misleading.

Most of the MCT content in coconut oil is Lauric acid, by most, we mean that depending on how, exactly, the coconut oil is processed, there will typically be about 50 % to 60% Lauric acid as compared to around 5% Caprylic acid and 10% Capric acid.

In other words, while there’s a lot to be said for both coconut oil and lauric acid, coconut oil is not the rich source of true MCTs it is often marketed as being.  Basically, some marketers seem to forget to mention that Lauric acid is only classed as an MCT because a group of chemists chose 12 carbon atoms as the cut-off point for a fat to be classed as an MCT rather than because it bypasses the liver as true MCTs do.

Basically, if you want to integrate MCTs into your diet, and there are plenty of good reasons for doing so, then by far the best option is to buy a proper, high-quality MCT oil.

 

Choosing the right MCT oil

Now that you understand MCTs better, you’ll be better equipped to understand product labels.  Look for products which contain C8, C10 or a mixture of the two.  For example, the well-known product Brain Octane Oil is pure C8, whereas another well-known product XCT oil is a mixture of C8 and C10, which is why it’s available at a lower price point.  Be very careful about purchasing the cheapest MCT oils since they are very likely to have one or both of two common flaws with low-grade MCT oil.

  1. There is a high level of Lauric acid in them
  2. They have been poorly processed

With regards to point one, if a product branded as MCT oil contains a significant quantity of Lauric acid, then frankly you might be just as well saving your money and just buying coconut oil instead.

With regards to point two, it’s not enough just to choose a product with healthy ingredients, those ingredients have to be prepared in an effective manner.  Cooking is a good analogy.  If you have bought a high-quality food product then you’re going to want to cook it lightly and gently to preserve as much as possible of its natural taste and goodness.  The same basic idea applies to extracting MCTs.  Cheaper MCT oils are very likely to have used solvent extraction and the ingredients they use may well have been created using solvent extraction.  This means that a product which may have been advertised as “natural” could actually be full of chemicals and also that it could still contain C6, which, as previously mentioned, can be very harsh on the stomach.

how to use mct oil

Using MCT oil

Which MCT oil you choose and how you use it, depends on which of the various benefits of MCTs interest you the most.

Brain food

The fact that MCT oil is absorbed quickly by the body means that it can be used as fast-acting fuel for the brain, which also needs nourishment.  Bulletproof’s Brain Octane Oil really deserves its name since it can deliver a mighty dose of mental energy and focus, even without the addition of caffeine in the form of the popular bulletproof coffee.  To put this into perspective, if you’ve ever tried to concentrate on a task when you’re hungry, you’ll know how hard it is and the hungrier you get, the harder it is.  This is why many people end up reaching for sugary snacks when they need a mental boost.  Obviously, there are all kinds of reasons why this is a bad idea over the long term (and it’s not necessarily that good over the short term).  MCT oil, by contrast, is a much healthier way to give your brain a pick-me-up.

 

Energy food

Because MCTs bypass the liver, they can be made available to the body much more quickly than other energy sources, even sugar.  C8 is processed almost immediately and while C10 is slower, it is still made available much faster than most other food sources.  If you have a physically strenuous job and/or play high-intensity sports and want a way to deliver immediate or near-immediate energy to your body to fuel your performance, then MCT oil could be just what you need.  Since MCTs are a natural substance, it is highly unlikely that using them would get you into trouble with sports authorities, although it is recommended to double check just to be on the safe side.

 

MCT oil for weight loss

Scientifically, the jury is still out as to whether or not MCT oil raises metabolism and thereby burns more calories, hence aiding weight loss, so let’s talk practicalities.

Basically, there is only one way to achieve effective and sustainable weight loss and that is to make healthy adjustments to your diet and/or the level of exercise you take so that you burn off your excess fat until you reach your appropriate weight and then monitor your lifestyle to ensure that the number of calories you consume is proportionate to the level of activity in your lifestyle.

The key words in that paragraph are “healthy adjustments”.  Unless you have an urgent medical reason why you need to lose weight rapidly, no matter what the long-term cost, for example, you need to have surgery, then any and all the adjustments you make need to fit in with the general principles of healthy eating and that means you need a certain level of fat in your diet.  That being so, you need to work out how much fat you need (which will depend on various factors, particularly your natural metabolism and your lifestyle) and how you get it.

MCTs have a particular benefit for those looking to lose weight, which is that they put a quick (C10) to immediate (C8) stop to the hunger pangs, which spell danger to anyone on a weight-management programme.  Because they bypass the liver, they act even more quickly than the likes of refined sugar and, in great contrast to refined sugar, they bring other health benefits as well.

Obviously your game plan should be to avoid getting into situations where you’re going to feel these hunger pangs in the first place, but we all know life happens and in the real world that isn’t always possible.  It’s also worth noticing that the general benefits of MCTs are also particularly applicable to people looking to lose weight as you may find that the process of making changes to your lifestyle and, in particular, your eating and exercise habits, leave you temporarily lower in both concentration and physical energy.

mct oil dangers

!!MCT oil points of caution!!

There are two issues which commonly come up when MCT oils are discussed.  The first is the fact that they contain a high level of saturated fat and the second is that they can cause stomach upsets

Let’s address both of them

The issue of saturated fat is a simple one to clear up.  When the U.S.A. started to experience an epidemic of heart disease, scientists searched desperately for the cause and one study picked up on the fact that there appeared to be a link between the consumption of saturated fat and high levels of cholesterol and that people with high levels of cholesterol also tended to be more prone to heart disease.  This study was well-meant but was questionable even at the time and now has been widely discredited.  Even so, however, it still manages to be referenced across the internet, even by some reputable sources.

That leaves the issue of stomach upsets.  These are indeed possible, however there are two points to keep in mind here.  The first is that low-grade food of any sort has a higher likelihood of upsetting your body than a higher-quality food.  That means that if you choose a cheap MCT oil, which has been produced using solvents (and probably with ingredients which were themselves produced using solvents), then, not to put too fine a point on it, you are basically setting yourself up for stomach trouble.  The second, is that, even the healthiest stomach is at least moderately delicate, which means that any change to your diet is usually best introduced slowly so as not to upset it and this is particularly true of powerful foods such as MCTs.

Resources:

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317118.php

http://www.touroinstitute.com/natural%20bactericidal.pdf

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