As the name suggests, medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil contains medium-length chains of fats called triglycerides. Due to their shorter length, MCTs are more easily digested than longer-chain fatty acids found in many other foods.
Four different types of MCTs exist, of which caprylic and capric acid are most commonly used for MCT oil. In some cases, these specific types have unique benefits.
Here are 7 science-backed benefits you can get from adding MCT oil to your diet.
Current research is mixed on this issue, but there are some potential reasons why MCT oil may be beneficial for weight loss.
MCT oil has been shown to increase the release of two hormones that can promote the feeling of fullness in the body: peptide YY and leptin (
One study found that people taking 2 tablespoons of MCT oil as part of their breakfast ended up eating less food for lunch compared to those taking coconut oil (3).
The same study also found a lower rise in triglycerides and glucose with MCT oil, which may also influence the feeling of fullness.
Note that some of these studies don’t take other factors into account, such as activity levels and other calorie consumption. More research is needed.
MCTs can also be converted into ketones, which are produced from the breakdown of fat when carbohydrate intake is low.
Lastly, your gut environment is very important when it comes to your weight. MCT oil may help optimize the growth of good bacteria and support the gut lining, which could also help you lose weight (
MCT oil may support weight loss by increasing fullness, fat loss, ketone production, and by improving your gut environment. More research is needed to determine its efficacy.
The body absorbs MCTs more rapidly than long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), which contain more carbons in their fatty acid chains (
Due to their shorter chain length, MCTs travel more quickly from the gut to the liver and do not require bile to break down like longer-chain fats do (
In the liver, the fats are broken down to be either used as fuel or stored as body fat. Since MCTs easily enter your cells without being broken down, they can be used as an immediate source of energy (
When you’re on a ketogenic diet, MCTs can also be converted into ketones in the liver. These ketones can pass through your blood-brain barrier, making them a source of energy for your brain cells.
MCT oil is easily absorbed and transported throughout the body. It can be used as an instant source of energy or can be converted into ketones.
During exercise, rising lactate levels can negatively impact exercise performance.
Interestingly, MCTs may help reduce lactate buildup.
One older study found that athletes who took 6 grams or about 1.5 teaspoons of MCTs with food before cycling had lower lactate levels and found it easier to exercise, compared to those taking LCTs (
Furthermore, the study found that taking the MCT oil before exercise may help you use more fat instead of carbs for energy.
The results of another animal study suggest that MCT oil may not negatively affect exercise performance (
MCT oil could potentially increase fat burning and reduce the need for carbs during exercise. However, it’s unclear whether this translates to improved exercise performance.
While the ketogenic diet has gained popularity among people wishing to lose weight, it was first introduced as a way of managing epilepsy.
Researchers found that fasting increases ketone production and that this may reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures (
Since MTCs can be converted into ketones, they may be beneficial in managing epilepsy.
However, the type of MCT may be important. One in-vitro study showed that the MCT capric acid improved seizure control better than a widespread anti-epileptic drug (
Another study in rats found that the same MCT blocked receptors in the brain that cause seizures, though more human studies are needed (
If you’re considering a ketogenic diet to help manage your epilepsy, talk to your doctor or nutrition professional first.
Alzheimer’s disease impairs your brain’s ability to use sugar (24).
An MCT ketogenic diet offers an alternative energy source: ketones. This could allow brain cells to survive better. It also blocks a receptor in the brain that causes memory loss (19).
One study found that a single dose of MCTs improved short-term cognition in 20 people with Alzheimer’s disease with a certain gene type, specifically APOE ɛ4-negative (
While genetic factors play a role, evidence suggests that 20 to 70 grams of supplemental MCTs that include caprylic or capric acid could modestly improve the symptoms of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s (24).
Overall, the benefits of MCT oil in Alzheimer’s disease are promising, but longer and larger scale studies are needed (
Another study found that adding MCTs to a ketogenic and gluten-free diet substantially improved autism behaviors for 6 of the 15 children involved (26).
Because autism is a spectrum condition, it can affect people in different ways.
This means that adding MCT oil to your child’s diet may help to varying degrees or may show no effects. More research is needed here, as well (
If you’re considering a ketogenic diet to help manage your child’s autism, talk to your doctor or nutrition professional first.
MCT oil may improve brain function, which could have benefits for people with epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and autism.
Coconut oil, which contains numerous MCTs, has been shown in an older in-vitro study to reduce the growth of Candida albicans by 25%. This is a common yeast that can cause thrush and various skin infections (
An in-vitro study also showed that coconut oil reduced the growth of a disease-causing bacteria called Clostridium difficile (
Coconut oil’s ability to reduce yeast and bacterial growth may be due to the caprylic, capric, and lauric acid in MCTs (
MCTs themselves have also been shown to suppress the growth of a widespread infectious fungus in hospitals by up to 50% (
However, note that most of the research on MCTs and immune support has been conducted via in-vitro or animal studies. High-quality human studies are needed before stronger conclusions can be made.
MCT oil contains fatty acids that have been shown to reduce the growth of yeast and bacteria. Overall, MCTs may have a variety of antimicrobial and antifungal effects, though more research is needed.
Some factors that increase your risk for heart disease include:
- high cholesterol
- blood pressure
- body mass index
MCT oil has been shown to support weight and fat loss. This may, in turn, help reduce your risk for heart disease (
A study of 24 overweight men found that taking MCT oil combined with phytosterols and flaxseed oil for 29 days reduced total cholesterol by 12.5%. However, when olive oil was used instead, the reduction was only 4.7% (
The same study also found better reductions in LDL (bad) cholesterol when the MCT oil mixture was added to their diet (
Moreover, MCT oil could help increase the production of heart-protective HDL (good) cholesterol (
It can even significantly reduce C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammatory marker that increases the risk for heart disease (
MCT oil may help reduce heart disease risk factors such as weight, cholesterol, and inflammation.
One small, older study of 40 people with diabetes found that those who consumed MCT oil daily saw reductions in body weight, waist circumference, and insulin resistance, compared to those taking corn oil containing LCTs (
However, the same study did not find any effect of MCTs on reducing fasting blood sugar levels (
Therefore, other factors such as timing and the amount of food eaten may influence the effects of MCT oil.
MCT oil could potentially help manage diabetes by reducing fat storage and increasing fat burning. It may also help manage blood sugar.
Although MCTs are considered safe, they may have some disadvantages (
MCT may stimulate the release of hunger hormones
People who took more than 6 grams of MCTs per day produced more of these hormones than those who had less than 1 gram per day.
However, it’s unclear whether the increase in these hormones actually causes you to eat more.
High doses could lead to fat buildup in the liver
High doses of MCT oil may increase the amount of fat in your liver in the long term.
One 12-week study in mice found that a diet in which 50% of the fats were MCTs increased liver fat. Interestingly, the same study also found that MCTs reduced total body fat and improved insulin resistance (
Keep in mind that high doses of MCT oil, such as those in the study above, are not recommended. Overall, more research is needed on the long-term effects of MCT oil.
MCT oil doesn’t currently have a defined tolerable upper intake level (UL). But a maximum daily dose of 4 to 7 tablespoons (60–100 mL) has been suggested as a safe upper limit (47).
MCTs are high in calories and usually only make up about 5–10% of your total calorie intake. If you’re trying to maintain or lose weight, you should consume MCT oil as part of your total amount of fat intake and not as an additional amount of fat.
MCT oil increases the release of hunger hormones, which could lead to increased food intake. In the long term, it may also increase the amount of fat in your liver.
Medium-chain triglycerides could potentially have health benefits.
For starters, they contain fatty acids that could promote weight loss by reducing body fat, increasing fullness, and potentially improving your gut environment.
MCTs are also a source of energy and may fight bacterial growth, help protect your heart, and aid in managing diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and autism.
Remember, though, that whole food sources may provide additional benefits over supplements.
Potential drawbacks may include increased hunger and possible fat accumulation in your liver.
Talk to your doctor or nutrition professional about the benefits and risks of adding MCT oil to your eating plan.