There are a number of impressive health benefits of MCT oil including improving mood, aiding in weight loss efforts, protecting the skin, optimizing digestion, boosting energy, strengthening the immune system, regulating hormones and increasing cognitive function, among others. There are quite a few side effects of MCT oil when it is taken in excessive amounts, due to its extreme concentration of powerful chemical compounds and active ingredients. These side effects can include gastrointestinal distress, anxiety, loss of appetite, inflammation, fatigue, mood swings, hormonal fluctuations, and headaches, as well as complications for people with diabetes and those who are pregnant. Only a very small amount of MCT oil is required for the desired effects, so always use it in moderation or when diluted in some way.
What is MCT Oil?
MCT oil stands for medium-chain triglycerides, also known as medium-chain fatty acids, which are widely known as beneficial nutrients for the body. These are commonly considered “good” forms of fat, which can do everything from boost the metabolism to improve the strength of the immune system. These medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA or MCT oils) are named C-6 (caproic acid), C-8 (caprylic acid), C-10 (capric acid) and C-12 (lauric acid). All of these acids are also found in coconut oil, which is why many people confuse the two. However, the majority of medium-chain fatty acids found in coconut oil (a total of 50-65% of the fats) are lauric acid.
The numbers attached to these fatty acids are important; the smaller ones (caproic, caprylic and capric acids) are easier for the body to absorb and convert directly into ketones, a powerful form of energy for the body. Lauric acid (C-12) is right on the edge of medium-chain fatty acids (6-12 carbons) and long-chain fatty acids (13 -21 carbons), and in some ways, it behaves like a long-chain fatty acid. It is slightly less efficiently processed by the body into energy but is still considered an MCT.
MCT oil is composed solely of these medium-chain fatty acids (100% versus the 50-65% in coconut oil). In this way, MCT oil is a more concentrated form of one or more of these beneficial fatty acids, some of which are rarer than others.
This is not to say that coconut oil does not have an impressive list of proven health benefits, but for those people who want an even stronger dose of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting fatty acids, some type of MCT oil is the right choice. Again, some MCT oils will be a blend of these fatty acids, while other MCT oil products on the market will be 100% pure versions of one of these triglycerides. It is important to take note of these concentrations before adding this oil to your daily or weekly health regimen.
Before we get into the benefits of MCT oil, it is important to understand its component parts.
C-6 (Caproic Acid): This is a medium-chain fatty acid that is in extremely small concentrations in most MCT oils, and is often processed out of them intentionally. It has a rather unpleasant taste, but as with other MCTs, it can be quickly converted into useful ketones and ATP, valuable “clean” energy sources in the body.
C-8 (Caprylic Acid): This is arguably the most important medium-chain fatty acid, but it is found in low concentrations in coconut oil. It is converted extremely quickly into ATP – usable energy – without involving the liver and is directly linked to improved cognition. It also results in a burst of energy and provides immune system support, thanks to its antioxidant and antibacterial qualities.
C-10 (Capric Acid): Another relatively rare MCT in coconut oil, this fatty acid is another type of fat that can bypass any lengthy processing in the liver, like a long-chain carbohydrate, such as a sugar. This makes capric acid ideal for rapidly producing energy within the body.
C-12 (Lauric Acid): With a 12-carbon chain, lauric acid does need to pass through the liver to be processed into energy, which makes it more like long-chain fatty acids. That being said, lauric acid also has antimicrobial properties, but it has a larger impact on your cholesterol than the smaller-chain MCTs.
MCT Oil Benefits
Using MCT oil is very effective for people who struggle with low energy, poor digestive health, obesity, hormonal fluctuations, slow metabolism, dementia, diabetes, and inflammatory conditions, as well as those who are at high risk for cardiovascular disease.
When the fatty acids of MCT oil are converted into energy, the metabolism is inevitably sped up, which can help with passive fat-burning and general efficiency of calorie burning by the body. In fact, research has shown that MCTs will prevent fat deposition by the body, instead of becoming pure forms of energy.
Increases Energy Levels
With a boosted metabolism, you also have enhanced energy levels, not to mention the direct stream of ATP and ketones from the rapid conversion of MCTs to energy. Instead of more than 20 steps that sugar takes to become energy, C-8 medium-chain fatty acids can be converted to usable energy in only 3 steps, giving your body rapid support and invigorating you.
The antimicrobial qualities of lauric acid and caprylic acid make MCT oil a worthy immune system supporter, and there has been plenty of research on linking these to better overall health. There is an increase in immune activity and white blood cell production in the body, while the antioxidant effects of these acids also reduce levels of oxidative stress.
Aside from its laxative qualities, MCT oil also has anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antibacterial qualities that can optimize digestion and balance the micro-environment of your gut flora. This will help prevent symptoms of cramping, bloating and constipation, as well as any parasitic or viral infections.
Boosts Heart Health
One of the main factors leading to cardiovascular disease and heart problems is obesity, and with the low-fat deposition effect of MCT oil, there is a better chance of remaining slim, keeping overall cholesterol levels down, and lower blood pressure. While consuming fats may seem counterintuitive to heart health, most MCTs are those “good” fats you need in your diet.
Maintains Hormone Balance
One of the critical purposes of fats in the body is their role in creating hormones. With these MCTs in your diet, you can make those hormones you need most to keep your mood in place, your metabolism high, and prevent depression and hormonal disorders.
MCTs are known to help control blood sugar, namely by preventing fat deposition, and instead of storing sugars in muscle and energy sources. Given that, MCT oil can help control obesity, increase the metabolism and optimize digestion. This oil is not only good for people with diabetes but also for those at high risk of the disease. According to a study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, a dietary substitute for MCT oil improves insulin-mediated glucose metabolism in non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) patients.
Improves Cognitive Function
When small medium-chain fatty acids convert directly into ketones, one of the areas where these are believed to have the most effect is in the brain. By providing energy to and protecting neural pathways, these ketones can mitigate the symptoms of dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases, by providing energy for concentration, focus and memory retention.
MCT Oil Side Effects
There are a number of potential side effects of using MCT oil, including hormone fluctuations, gastrointestinal distress, anxiety, appetite abnormality, headaches and inflammation, and can also negatively affect people with certain liver conditions or diabetes. You are particularly susceptible to these side effects if you use the oil in too high of a dose. The concentration of medium-chain fatty acids in MCT oil is enough to quickly remedy most afflictions. Always speak to your doctor about using this oil with your particular condition, and discontinue use if serious negative side effects occur.
- Hormones – When the medium-chain fatty acids are processed by the body, it happens quickly, which tends to generate heat and energy. This can stimulate the metabolism and cause hormone fluctuations in certain people, as well as hot flashes. There may be mild irritability or mood swings, particularly if you are taking too much of the oil.
- Inflammation – Your body receives a burst of pure and positive energy from the processing of certain true medium-chain triglycerides. This can be a bit overwhelming for your system, if not taken in moderation, which can temporarily increase your blood pressure and cause inflammation or headaches. Consider lessening your dosage if this occurs. Throat itchiness and respiratory irritation can also occur.
- Digestion – These medium-chain triglycerides are known to stimulate the stomach, and have laxative effects due to their powerful impact on digestion. Excessive consumption of MCT oil can cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, flatulence and general stomach discomfort.
- Anxiety – While uncommon, some people report increased feelings of anxiety after consuming large amounts of MCT oil. This could be due to the rapid energy surge in your body, and without any way to expend that energy, it can manifest as anxiety or nervousness.
- Appetite – MCT oil has been known to cause both a loss of appetite and extreme hunger, although the latter is far less common. In terms of the former, the valuable energy produced by the acids makes the body feel as though it is full, which causes a decrease in appetite.
- Liver Health – As mentioned, caprylic, caproic and capric acids all bypass the liver when being converted into energy, but that isn’t true for lauric acid. It must be processed by the liver, so if you have existing liver problems, it is best to speak with a doctor before using MCT oil. While some MCT oils eliminate lauric acid (C-12), not all of them do.
- Type 1 Diabetes – Certain aspects of MCTs can help with diabetes, but if you have too many ketones in the body, those will be exclusively used for energy production, meaning that the body will continue to store up glucose until it is at a dangerous level. Speak to your doctor before using MCT oil if you have Type 1 diabetes.
MCT Oil Dosage
In terms of dosage, MCT oil usage will be different for everyone, depending on their personal health and wellness goals. However, to have an effect on most health conditions, no more than 2-3 tablespoons per day are ever needed. In fact, that amount is on the high end. Most people find 1-2 teaspoons per day can help certain conditions, but everyone is different. The average range is between 2 teaspoons and 2 tablespoons per day.
If you begin using MCT oil, start with a small amount, and see how your body reacts. There are certain laxative qualities to this oil, along with other side effects mentioned above, so it’s best to start slow.
If you don’t notice any effects, you can increase the amount by 1 teaspoon or so every week, until you reach an appropriate level where you get the desired results. In most cases, your body will tell you what an acceptable dosage amount is. But again, consuming an excess of MCT oil can lead to decidedly unwanted side effects.