What is MCT Oil, and Why Is It Good for My Gut?
MCT, or medium-chain triglyceride, is usually derived from coconut oil and includes fatty acids that can have beneficial effects on your gut health. What?! Fat and acid are good your gut? In a word, yes! Let me explain the many benefits of MCT oil that have led me to recommend it to so many of my patients.
MCTs are a hot topic in the health and wellness industry. That’s due to the positive ways they can assist in weight management, boosting energy, regulating digestion, improving gut health, and more. You might be thinking, “Those sound similar to what I’ve heard about coconut oil.” You wouldn’t be wrong — they do share some qualities.
The medium-chain fatty acids in MCT oil are isolated and extracted from coconut oil’s long-chain fatty acids. Despite coming from these longer-chain fatty acids, MCT oil’s shorter chemical structure can benefit your gut health in amazing ways that coconut oil can’t!
In this article, I’ll explain what MCT oil is and how it could benefit your health. I’ll also address some common questions about MCT oil so that you can decide whether or not this special composition of healthy fatty acids is right for you.
What is MCT Oil?
MCT stands for medium-chain triglycerides, which are partially man-made fats with carbon atoms arranged by chemical structure.1 Those carbon atoms make up medium-chain fatty acids C8, or capric acid, and C10, or caprylic acid that is included in most MTC oils. I know that might seem complicated so let me break that down for you.
These medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) may support your gut and promote overall wellness because of their shorter chemical structure. That’s because they’re digested differently than long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) that have a carbon atom number higher than 12. LCFAs, including palmitic and stearic acids, are found in fatty cuts of meat, cheese, butter, and other dairy products.
There are also short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs.) These are absorbed directly into your bloodstream and are produced when your body ferments dietary fiber. SCFAs and MCFAs are absorbed quickly for fast metabolization and energy. LCFAs are coated with cholesterol and protein in a much longer digestive process.
Your body generally produces SCFAs through the digestion of vegetables. MCFAs need to be obtained directly from the source. The concentrated MCFAs in MCT oil are made for optimal lipid absorption. That’s because the shorter the chemical structure, the quicker your body absorbs the fatty acid.
Note that while MCT is manufactured, it’s very different from the manmade trans fats, which have no health benefits. And although many healthcare professionals in the past have advocated replacing saturated fat from sources of protein like red meat with monounsaturated fat, more recent research indicates that both have a place in a healthy diet.2
MCTs and Your Weight
The impact that MCT oil has on body weight varies depending on the diet and dosage, and your intention. This means that whether you are hoping to lose weight, maintain weight, or gain weight, MCT oil could help you reach your goals.
Consuming healthy fats increases satiety so that you feel fuller faster, and stay full longer. Because of their rapid metabolism in the liver, medium-chain fatty acids like the ones found in MCT oil may not contribute to fat accumulation as much as other dietary fatty acids.3 However, they still have the same satiating effect.
In addition, this rapid metabolism increases thermogenesis. This is the process that generates body heat directly from fat. And the good news is that this may stimulate fat loss.
MCT oil may also be of interest for those with diseases that result in malabsorption,4 such as celiac disease and other intestinal disorders. Once again, the special way that MCT oil bypasses a large part of the digestive process comes to the rescue. The medium-chain fatty acids are absorbed directly into what is called the “portal vein,” which transports blood to the liver from various organs.
This may help your body obtain nutrients that would otherwise be lost during the digestive process. When your body is able to properly obtain the nutrients it needs from food, oils, and other sources, it is also better able to absorb the calories (or energy) needed to maintain a healthy weight.
MCTs and Gut Health
MCT oil covers a lot of ground when it comes to gut health. Dietary fats stimulate digestion more than carbohydrates and lead to greater contractions in the gut.5 This promotes movement in your digestive tract. In fact, if you’re not careful, it could produce more movement than you’d like.
Further, the way that they are processed in the body may improve the gut microbiome and gut lining permeability so that they can increase metabolic function.6 However, that’s not where MCT oil’s impact on gut health ends.
Supports Antimicrobial Activity
Caprylic acid (C10) is known for its immune-supporting effects. This is due in part to the way it impacts the gut microbiome. Medium-chain fatty acids such as caprylic acid can create an inhospitable environment for bacteria or directly impact the growth of bad bacteria.7
Although there are still studies being conducted on the antibacterial and antimicrobial effects of medium-chain fatty acids, we do know that caprylic acid is beneficial in reducing bacterial overgrowth in the gut that could lead to Candida overgrowth.
Medium-chain fatty acids such as the ones in MCT oil may be one of the few options for optimal fat absorption in people who are unable to absorb fatty acids from other sources including unrefined coconut oil.8 Our bodies need fat to function, and a lack of it may lead to digestive discomfort, poor nutrient absorption, hormone imbalances, and, in extreme cases, malnutrition.
One of the most important functions of fats in the body is their role in creating hormones. Adipose tissue, otherwise known as the dreaded body fat, is actually vital to hormone production. It contains numerous cells that are able to produce hormones in response to signals from the rest of the organs in the body. Adipose tissue is important in the regulation of glucose, cholesterol, and the metabolism of sex hormones.9
When your body does not have enough fat cells, your risk of insulin resistance, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and blood clots increases. Yes, these are the same symptoms associated with having too many fat cells! This is another reason why balance in the body is so crucial to overall health, and why MCT oil could help.
In addition to providing the necessary fat to produce a balanced amount of adipose tissue, the way that MCT oil supports a healthy gut microbiome with its swift digestive process and antimicrobial activity may also help balance these hormones.
Are you seeing how all of these wonderful benefits tie together? With MCTs in your diet, you can support your body’s hormone production process to keep your mood stable. They may even help prevent hormonal disorders associated with mood.
Who Can Benefit From Using MCT Oil?
Many people can benefit from including MCT oil in their diet. Its concentrated amounts of C8 and C10 are easy for the body to absorb and convert into ketones. Thus, it supports energy production and optimal fat absorption for adipose tissue and hormone balance.
Leaky Gut and Autoimmunity
MCT oil possess qualities that can help optimize digestion and balance the environment of your gut flora, which will help prevent leaky gut and the symptoms of cramping, bloating, and constipation. For those concerned about weight loss while working to reverse symptoms of autoimmunity, MCT oil could be a useful nutritional measure to maintain a healthy gut and adipose tissue.
Medium-chain triglycerides also seem to impact the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines that are released by immune-helping T-cells. These often get out of balance in those with an autoimmune condition. MCT oil could support your body’s optimal inflammatory response, therefore helping to support your immune system.10
The antimicrobial effect of MCT oil’s caprylic acid could have a great impact on a destructive overabundance of bacteria in the gut, as in the case of Candida overgrowth. Caprylic acid, a component of MCT oil, helps to prune back bacteria and keep a happy harmony of good bacteria in the gut.
A Keto-Friendly Ally
The keto diet has been a popular diet trend for some time, and MCT oil is a prominent supplement in this community of fat-burners. The goal of this very low-carb diet is to promote fat loss by encouraging the body to use its fat stores for energy instead of using glucose. This induces a state of ketosis.
Ketosis is a metabolic process used to burn energy. When the body does not receive enough carbohydrates, it burns fat instead and produces what are called ketones. Ketones are a type of acid produced in the liver when the body does not have enough glucose to use as energy. Your liver then sends the ketones into your bloodstream for your body to use as fuel.11
In some studies, MCT oil has been found to support ketone production in the body, as well as what is known as octanoate, a fatty acid that actually blocks the assembly of excess fat cells.12 This makes MCT oil a good choice for those following a ketogenic eating plan.
What are the Drawbacks?
So we’ve covered who MCT oil could benefit, but who would MCT oil negatively affect? There are concerns about the impact of saturated fats on cholesterol levels. The presence of lauric acid in some MCT oil blends could increase overall cholesterol levels (both HDL and LDL) over the long term.
Despite many epidemiological studies on coconut oil, there are no definitive results connecting the fats in coconut oil and coronary heart disease.13 This can sometimes be attributed to the short-term nature of the studies, and whether refined coconut oil or the unrefined variety was examined.
Additionally, the medium-chain fatty acid in question during these studies is always lauric acid. If you are concerned about increasing cholesterol levels, you can find MCT oils that do not contain C12. Of course, I always recommend discussing a supplement with your primary care physician to ensure that it is right for you.
So How Should You Use It?
First of all, start slow. I do not recommend throwing back MCT oil by the capful. The same qualities that make it a great supplement for digestion could also lead to digestive discomfort if it is consumed in excess, leading to cramping, bloating, and diarrhea. I recommend starting with just 2 teaspoons a day, and working your way up from there to avoid uncomfortable side effects.
While I advocate staying away from caffeine, many of the patients I saw in my clinic began their day with a cup of decaf coffee. Many blend in tablespoons of coconut oil for a rich, smooth beverage. However, adding in MCT oil gives the same rich texture along with the added benefits. My MCT oil, a flavorless liquid, mixes easily in warm or cool beverages, baking mixes, soups, and salad dressings, so it’s easy to incorporate into your diet.
The C8 fatty acid is extracted from the oil of coconuts and palm fruit, and the concentrated formula will help create an environment in the gut that is perfect for beneficial probiotic bacteria. It will not get you into ketosis, but it will support a healthy, functioning gut barrier to protect from the development of leaky gut and keep your immune system in top condition.
Whatever you decide, you have the opportunity to take your health into your own hands and use supplements to promote overall wellness and vitality!
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