Over recent years there has been a lot of research showing the health benefits of coconut oil, but what makes coconut oil so healthy? The answer is MCTs. Here’s an in-depth look at the fatty acids that are going to boost your brain and your health. We’ll also look at the differences between coconut and MCT oil, and which is better for you.
What are MCTs?
MCTs are medium-chained triglycerides, which are healthy fatty acids. MCT oil is the concentrated supplement form of this important nutrient.
The majority of the fats we’re ingesting are long-chained triglycerides (LCTs) that can be hard for the body to use. Medium-chained triglycerides are shorter and easy for the body to use. Our body uses these fats for energy, primarily when you’re on a low-carb, ketogenic diet.
There are four medium-chain triglycerides: caproic (C6:0), caprylic (C8:0), capric acid (C10:0), and lauric acid (C12:0). The shorter the chain, the fewer carbons there are in the chain.
Benefits of MCTs
Our skin is one of the most abused parts of our body. The general public, myself included, are guilty of over washing and drying out our skin. Often we lather on chemicals to “repair” this damage or to remove blemishes. The problem is that we don’t look at the cause of these imperfections. Many of them appear because the skin is lacking healthy oils to keep it hydrated and healthy. While I wouldn’t go and lather MCT oils onto my skin, coconut oil is one source of MCTs I’m all for bathing in. Either using coconut oil like a normal moisturizing cream, or adding a dollop into a warm bath, will have an incredible hydrating effect on your skin. On top of this, ingesting these good oils is going hydrate your skin from within.
Another large benefit of MCT oils is that it can thicken, and revitalize hair. Like with skin, dehydration damages our hair. This is especially true in dry winter temperatures. Speaking from experience, a Canadian winter can suck the life out of your hair. Getting the proper oils into your system will nourish your scalp and your hair. Using coconut oil, or an MCT oil, as a conditioner is a great way to ensure your hair stays hydrated and nourished.
These aren’t new facts. In 1968 caprylic and capric acid were being studied for their intestinal benefits. The study showed that these two particular medium-chain fatty acids could reach circulation much faster than LCTs. This is because MCTs “are absorbed even in the absence of intraluminal lipases and bile salts and because they pass directly into the portal circulation rather than traveling via the intestinal lymphatics.”
As previously mentioned, MCT oil is popular with people on a ketogenic diet. Adding these fats to your diet increases satiety and helps supply the necessary fats for ketosis.
So what if you’re not on a ketogenic diet? Will MCTs still help you lose weight? Yes. MCT’s increase satiety and can help boost your metabolism. By increasing your satiety, you’ll be less hungry, and you SHOULD eat less. Reducing carbs is another important factor in weight loss but you do not need to be in ketosis to see positive side effects from these oils.
A study conducted with overweight men found that MCT consumption reduced food intake acutely. Taking MCT oil before meals showed to increase satiety and decreased total food consumption.
The promotion of weight loss, and anti-inflammatory properties of MTCs makes it good for your heart health. While old knowledge has taught us fat clogs our arteries and leads to heart disease, we now know that good fats are used as fuel for the body, and assuming you maintain a proper diet, these fats shouldn’t build up.
Both coconut oil and MCT oil have a laxative effect on the body so you’re not going to want to take too much at once. The oil will line the digestive track, keeping waste moving. This is great if you’re taking MCTs in the right amount. You should be having two good bowel movements daily because the longer food stays in the body, the more time it has to putrefy and cause inflammation.
MCTs are also antiviral and antifungal. This means that MCTs are a great way to kill bad bacteria and heal infections and inflammation. This is why many people swish coconut oil or MCT oil in their mouth for several minutes. It will not only freshen your breath, but it’ll also help kill the bad bacteria in your mouth and promote healthy gums.
The antibacterial and antifungal properties in MCTs have been shown to reduce your risk of cancer. Also, a ketogenic diet brought on by MCT oil can starve cancer cells by using a source of energy (ketones) that cancer can’t use. Also, for anyone suffering from cancer, MCT oil has been shown to reduce the symptoms related to side effects of chemotherapy.
These fatty oils are also safer to cook with. They have a higher smoking point than butter and can endure higher temperatures without running the risk of forming free radicals.
MCTs are also great for anyone like me who has type 1 diabetes. A research study by the American Diabetes Association found MCT oil could help alleviate dangerous symptoms of hypoglycemia in type 1 diabetics:
“Medium-chain triglyceride ingestion improves cognition without adversely affecting adrenergic or symptomatic responses to hypoglycemia in intensively treated type 1 diabetic subjects. Medium-chain triglycerides offer the therapeutic advantage of preserving brain function under hypoglycemic conditions without causing deleterious hyperglycemia.”
Research continues to pour in, showing these fatty acids are incredibly beneficial for your health.
Coconut Oil vs MCT Oil
While coconut oil contains MCTs, there are some significant differences between the two oils. Coconut is a natural product that contains approximately 65% MCTs, most of which is lauric acid (~50%). Coconut oil also contains the other three forms of coconut oil, caproic (trace amounts), caprylic (~6%), and capric acid (~9%).
MCT oil is an extract so has a much higher percentage of MCTs. These supplement forms also contain a different blend of the four acids. The makeup varies from brand to brand. Some contain all four acids, and some only contain one.
There is some debate if lauric acid should really be considered an MCT. Biochemists say that this acid works more like an LCT. This is one argument for taking MCT oil over coconut oil. The Bulletproof Diet, by David Asprey, says that coconut oil is still good for you but it is an insufficient source of the needed MCT oils your body needs to burn fat as fuel.
It is largely a result of Asprey’s diet plan and “Bulletproof Coffee” that the use of MCT oil has become popular. That is why the company created their XCT oil (caprylic and capric acid), and their Brain Octane (caprylic acid). According to their website, these are the most potent and best forms of MCTs.
As Bulletproof’s Brain Octane suggests, MTC oil can have a powerful effect on the brain. These MTCs, specifically caprylic acid, have been shown to enhance brain function, brain clarity, and memory.
MCTs are not all sunshine and roses. Medium-chain fatty triglycerides have been found to increase allergy sensitivity. This is because MCTs affect antigen absorption, meaning that MCTs showed to allow fewer antigens (foreign particles that cause an autoimmune response from the body) into the blood stream. This would seem like a good thing but the studies have found that antigens entering the bloodstream can result in building a tolerance to it. Without this exposure you become more sensitive to foreign particles and allergies are formed, causing an anaphylactic response. This was not found with LCT, which is not surprising since the different fatty acids work completely differently.
This doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to start developing a wide range of allergies, but you could be more sensitive to foods, and preexisting allergies could be heightened.
Overall there are many health benefits to MCTs. For a good whole food approach, coconut oil will supply you with lower levels of MCTs that are still beneficial for your health. MCT oil is a great option for higher concentrations of MCTs, but can be highly processed. Look for MCT oil that that is free of additives, and high in caprylic and capric acid.
Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals. Please consult a physician before adding supplements to your diet.