You’ve probably heard that MCT oil enhances the Keto diet. Taking MCTs is said to help with weight loss, ketone production, energy levels, and even preventing the infamous Keto flu.
Is it true? Is MCT oil an essential Keto supplement?
Well, it might not be essential, but MCT oil does have a raft of science-backed benefits behind it. We’ll cover those benefits after we introduce the star of the article.
What Is MCT Oil?
MCT oil stands for medium-chain triglyceride oil. It’s typically made from coconuts, but palm kernel oil, whole milk, and butter also contain MCTs.
MCTs have a unique ability to travel to the liver and boost ketone production.[*] To understand why this occurs, we need to unpack the term “medium-chain triglyceride.”
Triglycerides are how plants and animals store fatty acids. When you eat something with fat, you’re consuming triglycerides. Triglycerides are also how fat is transported, via the bloodstream, to different tissues in the body. Eating a diet high in calories, refined sugars, and/or processed carbohydrates may lead to excess triglyceride production in the liver and unwanted fat deposition. This can be reflected as “high triglycerides” on a lipid (cholesterol) panel at your doctor’s office.
Triglycerides can be made of three types of fatty acids: short-chain fatty acids, medium-chain fatty acids, and long-chain fatty acids. The short, medium and long prefixes refer to the number of carbon atoms in the fatty acid molecule.[*]
Medium-chain fatty acids—the building blocks of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs)—have 6 to 12 carbon atoms. That’s why the four types of MCTs are labeled from C6 to C12:
4 Types of MCTs
- C6: caproic acid
- C8: caprylic acid
- C10: capric acid
- C12: lauric acid
Look for MCT oils made with caprylic acid (C8) or capric acid (C10). Caproic acid (C6) is rarely used due to its bad taste, while lauric acid (C12) doesn’t have the same ketogenic properties as other MCTs.[*]
Ketogenic properties? Yes, when you consume MCT oil, the MCTs travel rapidly to the liver for ketone production.[*] The resulting elevation in ketones—your backup brain fuel—is likely responsible for any cognitive benefits one may experience while supplementing MCTs.
Benefits of MCT Oil
Thinking about supplementing with MCT oil? The following potential benefits might convince you.
#1: Fat loss
Several studies suggest that MCTs promote fat loss.[*][*][*] In one study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, overweight people taking MCT oil lost more weight than counterparts taking olive oil.
A few mechanisms may explain why MCT oil helps folks lose fat.
First, MCT oil has been shown to increase fullness hormones like leptin and peptide YY.[*] When you're full, you're less likely to overeat and pack on the pounds.
Consuming MCTs also appears to increase energy expenditure—the rate at which you burn calories. This may be mediated by shifts in the gut microbiome.[*]
Finally, MCT oil increases fat-burning in the liver. That’s how ketones and energy are produced.
#2: Brain health
The brain normally runs entirely on glucose. But in a state of ketosis, the burden shifts to ketones.
Elevating ketones—with the Keto diet, MCT oil, or both—appears to have brain benefits in a variety of situations. Consider the following:
- Elderly people performed better on cognitive tests after consuming a single meal containing MCTs.[*] No Keto diet required.
- MCT supplementation improved memory in those with Alzheimer’s disease.[*]
- An MCT-based ketogenic diet has proven effective for controlling epilepsy in children.[*]
- Adding MCTs to a Keto diet improved behavior in autistic children.[*]
These benefits may not be entirely driven by ketones. MCTs themselves can also cross the blood-brain barrier to (potentially) improve cognition and brain function.[*]
#3: Keto flu mitigation
The transition from carbs to Keto isn’t always a smooth one. Many people experience a cluster of symptoms known collectively as Keto flu.
Some of these symptoms (like headaches) may stem from the brain’s inability to transition from glucose to ketones for energy. By elevating ketones, MCT oil may ease this transition.[*]
#4: Rapid energy
Since MCTs don’t require bile for digestion, they require fewer steps to be oxidized (burned) by the liver than long-chain fats. In other words, MCTs are converted to energy faster.
MCT oil may also enhance exercise performance, but the evidence is mixed. One mouse study found that MCTs boosted swimming capacity[*], but human studies haven’t shown endurance improvements.[*]
#5: Antimicrobial effects
The MCTs capric acid, caprylic acid, and lauric acid have been documented to have antimicrobial effects against bacteria, yeast, and viruses.[*]
One such yeast is Candida albicans, a common cause of thrush, intestinal, and vaginal fungal infections. The MCTs in coconut oil inhibit the growth of this pathogen.[*]
To be clear, most of the research on this topic is test tube or animal research. It’s not ready for primetime yet.
Side Effects of MCT Oil
The main reported side effect of MCT oil is digestive distress. Consuming too much too quickly can cause diarrhea, gas, bloating, and abdominal pain.
Very high doses of MCT oil (50% of daily calories) have also been shown to increase liver fat in mice.[*] Keep in mind, however, that these doses are 5 to 10 times higher than the recommended upper limit for humans.[*]
How To Take MCT Oil
If you want to take MCT oil, start slow with a teaspoon per day and work your way up from there. This will help mitigate any laxative effects.
Most people stabilize at a tablespoon or two per day, but the safe upper limit for bowel tolerance is 4 to 7 tablespoons per day.[*]
For a more digestible option, try MCT oil powder (It has the same nutritional value).
When shopping for MCT oil, look for products made with C8 (caprylic acid) and C10 (capric acid). These are the most ketogenic MCTs, and the most studied for their benefits.[*]
Should You Take MCT Oil?
If you’re on a Keto diet, adapting to a Keto diet, or just looking to boost ketones—MCT oil could be a valuable addition to your cabinet. If you have a moment, drop a comment and let us know how you use MCTs.
KeepKetoInTupperware a year ago
I know Slimfast sells an mct oil. I see it all the time at my local discount grocery store. (They stock it in the baking aisle lol). Has anyone tried it and how do you like it?
RousingKale737858 9 months ago
I have used the one on line from SFH- easy to use and a great product.
Betsy A. 2 years ago
Can I just take a tablespoon of coconut oil
looz weight 2 years ago
been using it really cool especially for my work out performance , thanks for the article:)
MsMarvellousMacadamia 2 years ago
Anyone can help guide on how to choose the correct MCT strain for weight loss? There are so many brands and kinds out there and I am lost. Thank you
Wendy_63 2 years ago
is it ok to take in gel cap form? Mine are the medium chain triglycerides.
SpectacularArugula315768 2 years ago
I have been adding to my coffee for the fat and other benefits. I now fear the risks of high cholesterol from this. Is there an alternative, should I avoid this altogether or am I overthinking?
RemarkableKale161123 6 months ago
Possibly. Unlike carbohydrates, fats are essential. I did find some literature that indicated saturated fats are only potentially hazardous when present with sugars in your system (ie - a typical western diet). Thus if your exercising and keeping carbs low, even saturated fats (which MCT is not) should be just fine. Additionally, cholesterol both LDL and HDL are essential and you would die without. The markers for high cholesterol are arbitrary and abnormal levels vary wildly between individuals - thus low and high labels should not be taken as gospel. On this topic I do not trust current medical dogma.
Rene 2 years ago
I have the same risk ? Any answer ?
RousingKetone287978 2 years ago
I put one scoop of Perfect Keto MCT oil in my coffee with a tbsp of whipping cream. Every morning!
RemarkableRadish330653 2 years ago
Does anyone recommend a good brand of MCT?
RousingKale737858 9 months ago
StupendousCauliflower493293 2 years ago
JC 2 years ago
How often should this be used? Once daily, every other day, once a week?
LaneWalton 2 years ago
Daily - at least 1 tsp
Christine 2 years ago
I use MCT Oil powder with Collagen peptides in my coffee every morning. I love it.
MelissaShelton31619 2 years ago
I do the same!
Runleeny 2 years ago
I am going to add it to my olive oil and vinegar salad dressing
Jeannie 2 years ago
This article is too scientific for me. I still don't understand how to ascertain the correct ratio of MCTs for my body.
LaneWalton 2 years ago
1 tsp per day should be fine for any body size
Dora 2 years ago
I used to put MCT oil in my black coffee but even though you couldn’t taste or smell it, the appearance was off-putting. I’ve since switched to MCT capsules but they don’t seem to work the same.
Jenny 2 years ago
This was so helpful. I use MCT powder in my coffee and it is delicious! It is a C8 one.
Tina 2 years ago
I find taking MCT oil ingresses my anxiety levels too much. I have it in a natures way Keto protein drink for breakfast but anymore and I feel terrible.
Reeniebh 2 years ago
Thank u. I will re read this many times!