MCT Oil: Introduction
Medium chain triglyceride oils or MCT oils are a very special type of fatty acids with a unique chemical structure which allows them to be digested, absorbed, and metabolized by the body at a much faster rate than other types of fat molecules. They are largely considered to be one of the world’s healthiest forms of fat molecules and are highly favored for their thermogenic profiles. They are currently used for managing the nutritional requirements of individuals with fat malabsorption syndromes, weight management issues, and possible performance enhancement.
There are plenty of sources of medium chain triglycerides. These can include coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and dairy products like cheese, butter, milk, and yogurt. Of course, you can opt for an MCT oil supplement which should give you higher amounts of MCTs. For example, a tablespoon of coconut oil will typically contain around 2 grams of MCTs while an MCT supplements can weigh in at 15 grams for the same volume. Unfortunately, since supplements only contain MCT, they don’t have the other nutrients provided by coconut oil.
Generally, the chemical properties of MCT are closely related to its digestibility.
• Antiadipogenic – helps inhibit the expression and action of adipogenic genes
• Antiatherotic – may help prevent coronary events by sequestering some of the fat that are deposited in body tissues
• Antiobesity – may help in the prevention of obesity
• Appetite suppressant – provides a greater satiety effect
• Calorigenic – helps boost energy expenditure
• Hepatoprotective – helps protect the liver by not allowing fat to be stored
• Hypoglycemic – may be beneficial in lowering the glucose levels in the blood
• Immune enhancer – may help facilitate the enhancement of the immune system
• Ketogenic – the rapid metabolism of MCTs can result in the formation of ketone bodies at a very rapid rate further boosting the abundance of energy molecules outside the liver
• Performance enhancer – the increased energy levels can help individuals push further in their exercises
Medium chain triglycerides are easily digested and metabolized by the liver. It is this characteristic that makes it highly beneficial in the following ways.
Provide nutrition among individuals with fat malabsorption syndromes – Because MCTs don’t require very complex processes to be digested and utilized by the body, they can help individuals with problems in fat digestion and absorption such as infants, AIDS patients, and other disease conditions characterized by faulty fat metabolism.
Facilitates better weight management – One of the effects of MCTs is that they require immense energy expenditure. This can help decrease the rate of weight gain while at the same time improving satiety. Together, they can be excellent tools for weight management.
Boosts energy levels – The ketogenic properties of MCTs helps provide athletes with extra amounts of energy to help them in high intensity exercises.
There have been numerous studies on the use of MCT oils in health particularly in the prevention of obesity. However, there is a growing concern that the fat content of these compounds can exacerbate the already increased levels of other lipid molecules such as triglycerides and cholesterol levels. Nevertheless, when taken in moderation, MCT oil has been shown to reduce the secretion of lipoproteins while at the same time attenuating the triglyceride response of the body after meals. One of the most recognized physiologic processes involved in MCT-induced fat mass reduction is its ability to down-regulate the expression and activity of adipogenic genes.
When these genes are inhibited, the body will not produce additional fat cells. When combined with a highly modified diet low in fat, the overall result can be such that MCT can help in the reduction of body fat; hence, the consequent reduction of body weight. This has been what Marten, Pfeuffer, and Schrezenmeir posited in their 2006 study on medium chain triglycerides. They did, however, add that MCTs have shown pro-inflammatory properties in in-vitro studies. This was a stark contrast to the results found in in-vivo studies where MCTs have been shown to have liver protective properties in addition to a reduction in the risk of intestinal injuries.
In an earlier study, St. Onge and Jones (2002) revealed that MCT oils can be an excellent agent to prevent obesity. Unlike other types of fatty acids, medium chain fatty acids like medium chain triglycerides are rapidly oxidized in the liver. The faster rate of hepatic fatty acid oxidation results in a much greater energy expenditure. This simply means that the medium chain triglycerides will never have the chance of being stored as fat deposits in various tissues of the body because they will be oxidized at a very rapid pace. This leads to significant decrease in weight gain which can help decrease the size of fatty deposits over a certain period of time. Moreover, St. Onge and Jones posited that MCT oil can affect the action of cholecystokinin, neurotensin, peptide YY, pancreatic polypeptide, and gastric inhibitory peptide to account for its greater satiating effect. What this translates to is that consuming food items that are rich in MUFAs or MCTs can make you feel fuller or satiated a lot faster. This also means that you will not feel hungry anymore so you will be eating much less.
In 2012, roughly 10 years after the initial St. Onge and Jones study, the researchers returned to validate and strengthen the assumptions made in the earlier study. The antiobesity effects of MCTs have been closely linked to the ability of medium chain fatty acids to speed up the rate of energy expenditure and fat substrate oxidation leading to faster losses of whole-body subcutaneous adipose tissue volume
One very particularly controversial application of medium chain triglycerides is in the supposed management of epilepsy among children. A 1971 study by Huttenlocher, Wilbourn, and Signore posited that the ability of MCTs to induce rapid ketosis may lead to improvements in the clinical manifestations of mild myoclonic and akinetic seizures. Because the study has been more than 4 decades old, many researchers are still trying to figure out the real benefits of MCT oils in the management of epilepsy among children. Randomized control trials should provide the necessary empirical framework for its explanation.
To date, MCT oils are primarily used in a variety of health conditions especially those that may have a faulty fat or lipid metabolism. These health conditions can include obstructive jaundice, celiac disease, biliary cirrhosis, Whipple’s disease, cystic fibrosis, Crohn’s disease, neonatal malapsorption syndromes, and regional enteritis.
Weight management – The high energy expenditure index and increased fatty oxidation rates of MCTs help make it a very potent weight loss tool. While it may be counterintuitive at first, the unique structure of MCTs highlights its weight loss potential. Medium chain triglycerides are easily absorbed by the intestines and processed by the liver as whole fat molecules. It does not need to bind to other protein carrier molecules in order for it to be metabolized by the liver. Because of this, it takes a tremendous amount of energy to convert these fatty acid molecules into usable energy. The time it takes for MCTs to be absorbed in the intestines and metabolized by the liver is shorter compared to the time it would take for long chain fatty acids to be metabolized. This means that MCT oils do not have the risk of getting stored in the body as fat deposits. Consequently, because of the increased fat metabolism, MCT can draw other fat molecules in the oxidation process. When combined with a significantly reduced calorie intake, this can lead to substantial decrease in the rate of weight gain. You don’t necessarily will be losing weight per se but at the very least, you will halt your adding weight. If coupled with exercise, then MCTs can become an excellent source of weight loss activity.
Fat malabsorption syndromes – There were several studies that showed the use of MCT oils as dietary sources of fat for individuals who have problems with fat absorption such as those with HIV/AIDS. Because medium chain triglycerides or fatty acids are easily digested and absorbed by the bodythey can be particularly beneficial among AIDS patients who have difficulty absorbing or metabolizing other types of fat. One of the most striking problems with AIDS-related fat malabsorption syndrome is that patients cannot digest normal fats. This leads to the passage of fat in the stools unchanged leading to a manifestation known as steatorrhea. Unfortunately, fat is needed by the body to perform a variety of physiologic and metabolic processes including the maintenance of cellular integrity through the cell membrane and the absorption of fat soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, D, E, and K. Without fat in the blood because it is not absorbed by the intestines of an AIDS patient, severe avitaminoses can result, further aggravating the immunocompromised status of the AIDS patient. Additionally, studies show that medium chain triglycerides are processed a lot more efficiently by pancreatic enzymes.
Performance enhancement – There have been quite a number of studies that aimed to measure the effectiveness of prolonged use of MCTs on performance enhancement owing to its high energy expenditure index. Studies suggest that MCTs led to the production of increased levels of citrate synthetase, 3-oxoacid-CoA-transferase, and malate dehydrogenase which are all enzymes that are involved in the Tricarboxylic Acid cycle. This means that MCTs can significantly boost energy production which should be beneficial among individuals or athletes who perform high intensity physical exercises and endurance workout sessions. While MCT is not necessarily related to performance enhancement per se, the more efficient production of energy can help athletes push themselves a lot harder to achieve their exercise performance goals.
MCT oils only contain medium chain triglycerides. Food-based MCTs like coconut oil and cheeses, however, contain other nutrients which can add to their health benefits. For example, coconut oil is known to have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties in addition to the MCTs.
Studies show that the consumption of MCT oils of up to 50 percent of the average daily intake of dietary fat is safe. However, it is very essential to consume MCTs with meals as there have been incidents of bloating and mild to moderate abdominal cramps when taken without food. Aside from taking MCTs with food it is always advisable to start with relatively smaller doses before gradually increasing the dose, watching for tell-tale signs of MCT adverse reaction.
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