You might have read about a type of fatty acid known as a medium-chain triglyceride. Advocates claim that coconut oil, which is rich in medium-chain triglycerides, can provide a host of benefits.
Here’s a closer look at MCTs, and some of the ways they may improve your health.
Medium-Chain Triglycerides – The Basics
A medium-chain triglyceride is a type of fat that has a unique chemical structure. Most fats break down in your intestinal tract, where they are then absorbed by your blood and transported to various parts of your body.
MCTs are different, in that the body absorbs them directly, without having to break them down first.
Your blood takes them straight to your liver, where they’re converted into energy. Your body processes MCTs in much the same manner as carbohydrates.1
MCTs get their name from the number of carbon atoms they have. Long-chain fatty acids have no fewer than 12 carbon atoms. MCTs, on the other hand, have between six and 10. Because MCTs have a shorter “chain length,” they’re absorbed in your body quicker and are instantly turned into energy.2
Coconut oil is rich in MCTs. However, you can also find medium-chain triglycerides in some dairy products, including milk, butter, and cheese.3 MCTs are also available in supplement form.
Health Benefits of Medium-Chain Triglycerides
Research suggests that MCTs may provide some significant health benefits. Here are just a few of them.
There are two types of cholesterol – LDL or “bad” cholesterol and HDL or “good” cholesterol. If you have too much of the bad cholesterol, it can accumulate in your arteries, increasing the risk of cardiovascular problems. Not only that, “bad cholesterol” scavenges your body for “good cholesterol” molecules, removing them from the arteries so they can be eliminated through waste.4
There is some evidence that MCTs can increase the amount of good HDL cholesterol and reduce bad LDL cholesterol in your body. In one study involving 40 women, one group of participants consumed coconut oil and followed a low-calorie diet. The other group followed the same diet but consumed soybean oil instead. According to the results, the women using coconut oil recorded lower LDL levels and higher HDL levels.5
There is some evidence indicating that MCTs could play a role in helping people avoid long-term weight gain. Researchers conducted a study in order to determine what type of effect the consumption of MCTs and long-chain triglycerides (LCTs) had on a group of obese women. The scientists looked at how the two fatty acids compared in terms of effects on body composition, energy expenditure, and fat oxidation. According to the results, MCTs had a substantial impact on the participants’ ability to avoid sustained weight gain. They believe the reason is that MCTs help the body burn fat and create more energy.6
Improving Brain Function
In order to perform at its best, your brain needs fatty acids in your diet. They help you think clearly and stay sharp.7 MCTs can help improve cognitive decline in older adults, according to one study. More research will be needed, the scientists conducting the study said, before they will know whether long-term use of MCTs will result in sustained improvement of cognitive function.8
Supporting Cardiovascular Health
Research suggests that MCTs might help with something called “metabolic syndrome.” This is the name given to a group of disorders of the metabolic system, including obesity, high blood pressure, and dyslipidemia — a condition characterized by high levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol.
Researchers looked at the potential effects MCTs could have on metabolic syndrome and came up with some interesting results. They found indications that these fatty acids could help reduce the chances of becoming obese – and as a result, lower the risk of death and heart issues due to metabolic syndrome. MCTs can lower the risk of these problems because they are easily digested and quickly used for energy.10
You might not know it, but your “gut,” or gastrointestinal tract, is home to trillions of bacteria and other microbes. You probably think that there’s no such thing as a “good” type of bacteria, but there is. These beneficial microbes are in a constant battle with harmful ones. They’re fighting for control of your gut. If the “good guys” win, your gut will usually work as it should. But if the opposite happens, you could wind up having severe digestive issues.
MCTs may help protect your gut from the effects of harmful bacteria and viruses. According to one study, they do a better job of fighting bad microbes than long-chain fatty acids. As a matter of fact, according to the study, when MCTs are added to milk, they are effective in inhibiting a number of pathogens. These include the harmful Streptococcus bacterium, as well as viruses that lead to certain viral conditions.11
If you’re interested in ways to improve your health, you’ve probably done a lot of reading on coconut oil and other supplements designed to deliver substantial benefits. Yes, technical terms such as “medium-chain triglycerides” can be complex. But it’s important that you know what MCTs do, and how they can help you feel your best.
MCTs can be a great addition to any healthy diet but check with your doctor if you plan on taking any sort of supplement.
Here’s to your good health!