Fat has gotten a bad rap. But the truth is, we need fat in order to live. We need essential fatty acids for healthy; brain function, immune system, hormone production, and cellular energy production.
We also need the calories that fats provide for energy.
But not all fats are alike. Some clog our arteries and some contribute to inflammation in the body. Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), also known as medium-chain fatty acids, have a surprising list of benefits that may even outshine some benefits provided by the fatty acids in olive oil. MCTs actually provide fewer calories than other fats, and they even help you lose weight.
For instance, in a study that included 49 overweight men and women (aged 19-50), the participants who consumed a medium-chain triglyceride oil as part of a 16-week weight loss program lost more weight and fat mass than the group that consumed olive oil.1
What are medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs)?
MCTs are fatty acids that are naturally found in coconut and palm oil, and ghee (clarified butter). They are also available as a dietary supplement packaged in a bottle or in capsules.
Medium-chain triglycerides were first used in the mid-1900s in conjunction with a prescribed diet to reduce seizures. MCTs were originally formulated in the 1950s as an alternative food source for patients unable to digest normal fats and oils. More recently, MCTs have become a favorite energy source for endurance athletes.
MCTs have far-reaching health benefits. Who could benefit?
- has had major surgery and needs to boost cellular energy
- wants to enhance his/her athletic performance
- wants to support healthy growth and development
- wants to support cardiovascular health
- wants to lose weight and keep it off
- wants to support mental clarity
The advantages of medium-chain triglycerides over long-chain triglycerides
Fat molecules are made up of chains of carbon atoms. Long-chain fatty acids (LCTs), which make up the bulk of the Standard American Diet (SAD), range in length from 16 to 24 carbons. But MCTs are composed of only 4 to 14 carbon links.
MCTs cannot make you fat!
Because they have fewer carbon atoms, MCTs have a number of advantages over LCTs. Although MCTs are fat, and feel like fat in your mouth, they cannot make you fat. They resemble carbohydrates more than fat, are easy to digest, and are burned as energy—so there is no where for them to go, and no place for you body to store them.
According to Bruce Fife, N.D., author of The Healing Miracles of Coconut Oil, (Piccadilly Books, 2000) "All fats, whether they be saturated or unsaturated, from a cow or from corn, contain the same number of calories. The medium-chain fatty acids (MCTs), however, are different. They contain a little less and actually yield fewer calories than other fats."
Easier to digest
The first step in digestion of a fat such as butter is to dissolve it into the watery content of the intestine. The bile acids produced by the liver dissolve fat into tiny droplets and allow pancreatic and intestinal enzymes to break the large fat molecules into smaller ones, such as fatty acids.
The bile acids combine with the fatty acids and cholesterol and help these molecules move into the cells of the mucosa. In these cells the small molecules are formed back into large ones, most of which pass into vessels called lymphatics near the intestine. These small vessels carry the reformed fat to the veins of the chest, and the blood carries the fat to storage deposits throughout the body.2 If your body requires the fat for energy, it is removed from storage and used as fuel. But if you don’t need it, it eventually ends up as “love handles” or “fat tires.”
Medium chain triglycerides are digested and utilized differently than other fatty acids. Instead of being packaged into lipoproteins that circulate in the bloodstream, they are absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the portal vein, and are then transported to the liver. Because they don’t need bile or pancreatic enzymes to break down, they are easier to digest. And because they are easier to digest, they provide your body with quick energy, like carbohydrates.
Since MCTs are utilized quickly as energy, they are not stored as fat—unless of course you over consume calories. Numerous studies have shown that ingesting MCTs contributes to weight loss and a reduction in fat.
MCTs are good for your heart
It’s a misconception that all fat is bad for your heart. Your heart needs fatty acids to provide it with energy. Medium-chain fatty acids (medium-chain triglycerides) are metabolized more like carbohydrates than fats and researchers and practitioners are finding positive results from the clinical application of MCT therapy in the management of cardiac disease. Current experimental evidence supports the idea that the diseased heart is energy deficient and that MCTs can provide the stressed and deficient cells with an alternate energy source.3
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This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Always consult with a physician before embarking on a dietary supplement program.
St-Onge, MP, Bosarge, A. Weight-loss diet that includes consumption of medium-chain triacylglycerol oil leads to a greater rate of weight and fat mass loss than does olive oil. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 87, No. 3, 621-626, March 2008
The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). Your Digestive System and How it Works.
Labarthe F, Gélinas R, Des Rosiers C. Medium-chain fatty acids as metabolic therapy in cardiac disease. Cardiovasc Drugs Ther.2008 Apr;22(2):97-106
Calabrese C, Myer S, Munson S, et al. A cross-over study of the effect of a single oral feeding of medium chain triglyceride oil vs. canola oil on post-ingestion plasma triglyceride levels in healthy men. Altern Med Rev 1999 Feb.;4:23-28
St-Onge, Mp, Jones, PJH. Physicological Effects of Medium-chain triglycerides: Potential agents in the prevention of obesity. The Journal of Nutrition. 132:329-332, 2002
Seaton, T.B., et al. 1986. Thermic effect of medium-chain and long-chain triglycerides in man. Am. J. of Clin. Nutr. 44:630
St-Onge MP, Ross R, Parsons WD, Jones PJ. Medium-chain triglycerides increase energy expenditure and decrease adiposity in overweight men.Obes Res. 2003 Mar;11(3):395-402
Jancin, Bruce. "Medium-chain triglycerides promote weight loss.(Endocrinology)." Internal Medicine News. International Medical News Group. 2008. HighBeam Research. 27 Jul. 2010
Reger MA, Henderson ST, Hale C, Cholerton B, Baker LD, Watson GS, Hyde K, Chapman D, Craft S. Effects of beta-hydroxybutyrate on cognition in memory-impaired adults. Neurobiol Aging. 2004 Mar;25(3):311-4
Studzinski CM, MacKay WA, Beckett TL, Henderson ST, Murphy MP, Sullivan PG, Burnham WM. Induction of ketosis may improve mitochondrial function and decrease steady-state amyloid-beta precursor protein (APP) levels in the aged dog.Brain Res. 2008 Aug 21;1226:209-17. Epub 2008 Jun 11
St-Onge MP, Ross R, Parsons WD, Jones PJ. Medium-chain triglycerides increase energy expenditure and decrease adiposity in overweight men. Obes Res. 2003 Mar;11(3):395-402