What the Heck is MCT Oil?
Medium chain triglyceride oil (MCT) is one of those supplements which has been around for decades but has recently come back into style, partly due to the ketogenic diet craze. Its properties extend far beyond just the trendy, however. It has applications for everything from sports performance and energy to weight loss to brain health and conditions such as dementia. Since it has been around for so long there is a huge amount of research published on the benefits of this unique fat.
A Chemically Different Fat
Virtually all of the fats and oils in our diet and used in cooking are large molecules known as long-chain triglycerides (LCTs). MCTs are much smaller molecules and are metabolized in the body in a completely different manner than long-chain fats. LCTs must be circulated throughout the body before reaching the liver, are slow to be metabolized, and are therefore more easily stored as fat. MCTs, on the other hand, are transported directly to the liver and easily enter cells' mitochondria, where they are nearly immediately converted into ATP (energy) rather than stored in fat cells. MCTs do not occur naturally in isolated form but are derived from palm kernel oil or coconuts and coconut oil. Caprylic acid, a well-known anti-fungal compound from coconut oil, is an example of a MCT oil.
Sports Performance/Cardiovascular Benefits
MCTs spare the use of carbohydrates as preferred muscle fuel during long-term exercise. Stored carbs in the form of glycogen in the liver and muscles are a fuel reservoir — especially important for athletes and others who need fast, sustained energy. Since MCTs are burned easily and first as fuel and spare the need for stores of glycogen to be used (burned), supplementing with MCT oil has the potential to prolong exercise before exhaustion. By extending exercise time, athletes can have workouts last longer, and have a higher intensity of work output during important final stages of a competition.
Large serum triglycerides have been associated with increased risks of heart disease. These LCTs are also susceptible to oxidation (lipid peroxidation) which is a major factor in unsafe cholesterol levels and exacerbates heart disease risk. MCTs, acting in the body more as a carbohydrate than a fat, and metabolized so quickly, do not pose this problem and in fact have been shown to decrease the levels of both cholesterol and serum triglycerides. Animal studies have shown that long-term feeding of MCTs at fairly high doses helps reduce elevated cholesterol levels. Also reported are less storage of fat in body tissues and decreases in body weight.
Thermogenesis (heat production) is the rate at which cells burn fuel/fat for energy. MCTs have been shown to increase the rate at which the body burns fat for fuel. Multiple studies have concluded that when MCTs are substituted for LCTs in the diet, the body is less inclined to store fat, and a diet containing MCTs is more effective than a low-fat diet at decreasing stored fat. One human study compared the metabolic effects of 400 calorie meals of MCTs and LCTs by measuring metabolic rates prior to and for 6 hours following the test meals. The results showed that the MCT-containing meals caused an average 12% increase in basal metabolic rate, as compared to a 4% increase with the LCT-containing meal. The results here raised the possibility that replacing LCTs with MCTs over long periods of time could produce weight loss, even in the absence of reduced calorie intake. MCT oil can also help increase satiety (feeling full for longer) as well.
The brain is made primarily of fatty tissues (60% of dry weight) and it is well-accepted that healthy fats such as omega-3 DHA from fish oil nourish and support brain matter. However, the brain's main source of fuel is glucose, not fat. This is one reason why people following a strictly low-carb/high-fat diet such as The Atkins Diet popular some years ago would regularly report "brain fog" and general cognitive impairment. With no glucose available for fuel from carbohydrates, the brain suffers. MCT fats are so easily digested, absorbed and utilized in the body that they can cross the blood-brain barrier and fuel the brain, supplementing its reliance on glucose. To make this most effective, carbohydrate (especially refined carbohydrate) restriction is important. This will allow the body to rely on fats, or ketone bodies, for fuel. Ketones are the byproduct of fat-burning produced by the liver, and are a fuel for cells, increasing mitochondrial efficiency. With regard to brain function, when ketones are present, the brain preferentially burns them and spares glucose.
Several conditions may benefit from using ketones as a fuel source, including memory impairment, dementia and Alzheimer's disease. In Alzheimer's there appears to be a pathological decrease in the brain's ability to use glucose, and brain-imaging scans show significantly reduced glucose uptake in the neuronal areas affected by Alzheimer's disease. There is some evidence that ketone bodies, and in particular MCTs such as lauric acid may improve cognitive functioning in older adults with memory disorders.
Evergreen Nutrition carries several MCT oil products. From Garden of Life's Dr. Formulated Brain Health line we have an Organic Coconut MCT Oil, and new from their Dr. Formulated Keto line is an Organic MCT Powder, both of which are from sustainably harvested coconuts, non-GMO, vegan and gluten-free. And they are processed without solvents and 100% coconut-sourced.
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The information provided here is for educational purposes only. None of the research or evidence presented here is intended as a substitute for consulting an appropriate healthcare professional. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products offered here are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. If you believe that you may have a disease condition, please consult your healthcare practitioner before using this or any other dietary supplement.
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