The 3 Real Biological MCT Oils: Why lauric acid acts like an LCT, not a real MCT
Coconut oil researchers often say there are about four kinds of MCT oils found in coconut oil: C6, C8, C10, and C12, with the numbers telling you the length of the carbon chains.
Even though scientists long ago decided to call all of these MCTs, biologists now understand that the cheapest and most common of the MCTs, C12 or lauric acid, is a pseudo-MCT.
Lauric acid is an excellent food source, but it acts like an LCT which means long chain triglyceride, not an MCT, so when consumed, you don’t get the fast ketone energy from it that you can get from C8 or C10.
From a scientist’s perspective, the lauric acid should be considered an LCT; unlike the biological MCTs, lauric acid gets processed by your liver. This is important because your body metabolizes MCTs differently than LCTs; MCTs get very quickly converted into energy to fuel your brain and body instead of requiring a pit stop in the liver for processing.
Chemists found the number of carbon chains and then decided what medium was. Lauric acid is a chemical MCT, but it is not a real biological MCT, this is because our bodies do not treat it as a conventional MCT. Almost every study about the human and animal uses of MCTs you’ve ever seen does not measure lauric acid for this reason.
Since your body reacts with lauric acid differently from the beginning, so, therefore, it deserves to be treated on oil marketing labels too! Hopefully, chemists will eventually change the classification to be more accurate. Lauric acid is not an MCT.
Several main types of fatty acid oils are found in coconut oil, but the first three below are the only ones that behave in your body as real MCTs. Which means that they bypass the metabolic burden of processing in the liver, so they quickly become energy in your brain and muscles.
Caproic Acid, C6:
There’s not enough of it to make a difference in straight coconut oil, it tastes bad, and it often results in stomach/gastric upset, but it converts extremely quickly to ketones. If your MCT oil makes your throat burn or has a not so good flavor, and one reason may be because the distillation did not remove enough of the C6, but there are other reasons that this can happen too, which is covered below.
Caprylic Acid (C8): ~6% of coconut oil
C8 has potent anti-microbial properties which are much stronger than lauric acid, also to help you maintain a healthy gut, and it is the fastest to metabolize in the brain. Your liver doesn’t need to process this rare type of MCT, and it only takes three steps for your body to turn it into ATP, which is the cellular fuel you use. To put it into perspective, sugar takes about 26 steps. This is why Brain Octane is so good at suppressing cravings and is the most potent oil to put in Bulletproof Coffee. You would need 18 tablespoons of coconut oil to get just one tablespoon of Brain Octane.
Capric Acid (C10): ~9% of coconut oil
The second shortest form of MCT, which is also very rare. It is a little slower to turn into energy but is much more affordable than C8. XCT Oil is triple-distilled in a non-oxygen atmosphere without any solvents ever used and contains C10 and C8 because they are the only two MCT oils that turn into ATP without the liver. You would need around six tablespoons of coconut oil to get one tablespoon of XCT oil, that’s how strong it is.
Lauric Acid (C12): ~50+% of coconut oil
It requires a stop in the liver rather than getting immediately converted into energy like the other MCTs. This is why it is described as an LCT, not an MCT like marketers claim. It can raise cholesterol more than any other fatty acid, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It also is commonly cited as having antimicrobial benefits, which it does, except for the shorter chain, MCT oils are more effective against aggressive candida yeast and even gonorrhea and chlamydia (as a monoglyceride).
It is a little confusing since coconut oil researchers imply that lauric acid is the same as monolaurin, an extremely potent antimicrobial that is derived from lauric acid. Given how common and cheap this stuff is, it’s no wonder that companies are tempted to sell it as a straight MCT. Two years ago, I looked into making a more affordable MCT oil contains lauric acid. I’d have made a killing selling what is coconut oil as something special, but it only doesn’t work, and it’s not just marketing.
C-14 and above:
These are widely recognized LCTs, or long chain fatty acids in coconut oil, which are mostly saturated, including stearic acid (C18:0), oleic acid (C18:1), and linoleic acid (18:2). The exact percentage of each depends on the region the coconut is grown, time of harvest, and other evolving variables. They are useful as a fuel source, but they are also widely available in other oils, and you won’t benefit from eating a lot more of them compared to eating straight medium chain fatty acids.
Molecular weight analysis of milk from different species showed that while milk fats from all studied species were primarily composed of long-chain fatty acid (16 and 18 carbons long), approximately 10–20% of the fatty acids in milk from horses, cows, sheep, and goats were medium-chain fatty acids.
Some studies have shown that MCTs can help in the process of excess calorie burning, thus weight loss. MCTs are also seen as promoting fat oxidation and reduced food intake. Interest in MCTs has been expressed by endurance athletes and the bodybuilding community. While health benefits from MCTs seem to occur, a link to improved exercise performance is weak. A number of studies back the use of MCT oil as a weight loss supplement, but these claims are not without conflict, as about an equal number found inconclusive results.
The body has two primary energy sources; it burns glucose or ketone bodies. The majority of people consume glucose primarily because they are always supplying a regular form of sugar, starches, and proteins that can be turned into blood sugar. When one either facts or goes on a low-carb, moderate protein and high-fat diet they switch their energy source to fat.
Specifically, the fatty acids are broken down into ketone bodies. The primary three forms of ketones that are produced in the body include Acetoacetate, Acetone and Beta-HydroxyButyric acid. They are released into the blood from the liver when insulin levels are low and hepatic liver metabolism is increased.
Ketones as a Preferred Fuel For the Brain:
Ketones are a very different energy making molecule that is made from fatty acids. The human body can make Ketones from stored fat or MCTs. They feed all of our cells of the body, but specifically, they are a preferred fuel for the brain.
Studies have demonstrated that MCTs can readily cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and be oxidized by the brain. Which means MCTs provide a direct and indirect brain fuel source via the generation of ketones. This is incredibly important for everyone and those in particular with type 1 diabetic patients as it gives us all a strategy to preserve brain function during hypoglycemic episodes without raising blood glucose levels.
Ketones activate specific regulatory proteins in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic growth factors (BDNF). BDNF works to repair, protect and enhance the role of the brain cells and the neurological networks. BDNF also excites the growth of new, healthy neurons that take the place of older, dying cells. The failure to regulate dead or dying brain cells is a risk factor for neurodegenerative disease processes.
This is the smallest chain MCT at six-carbon chains. There is a profoundly small amount of this in our healthy food supply. It has the potential to cause digestive difficulties including diarrhea and throat burning.
This eight carbon MCT is located in only 6% concentration in coconut oil but is thought to be the gold nugget of the MCTs. It has the most potent of anti-microbial properties that help to destroy harmful bacteria and yeast. Caprylic acid is easier than lauric acid in the result of cellular fuel. In fact, it only takes three steps to turn it into cellular power (ATP). Sugar takes 26 steps to produce cellular energy and is therefore highly metabolically rich. The more concentrated an MCT oil is in caprylic acid, the more mitochondrial strengthening the product will be.
This ten carbon chain fatty acid is also a mighty MCT that turns into natural energy within the mitochondria of the cell without any work from the liver. Capric acid has also been shown to have significant anti-microbial effects against bacteria such as P Acnes, E Coli and Candida albicans.
Research has also demonstrated that capric acid helps to reduce inflammatory activity against bone tissue. This provides evidence of its benefit in preventing bone loss and osteoporosis.
This is a 12 carbon chain fatty acid that makes up around 50% of the fatty acids within coconut oil. The metabolism of lauric acid is different than the other three MCTs. In fact, even though lauric acid is considered an MCT, it acts more like a long-chain fatty acid. It depends upon liver bile to be efficiently metabolized.
Lauric acid is an effective anti-microbial, but research has shown that caprylic and capric acids are more effective than lauric acid and infectious organisms such as gonorrhea and chlamydia. Caprylic acid is a common supplement used in anti-yeast protocols and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth protocols.
Health Benefits of MCT Oil
MCTs Lower Blood Sugar:
MCTs raise up ketones and lower blood sugar naturally. They have a stable blood sugar stabilizing effect that helps to reduce inflammation and improve brain function.
After a single oral dose of MCTs, a slight drop in blood sugar develops. It is caused, apparently, by a decrease in the liver output of glucose and not by an increase in the bodies utilization of glucose.
MCTs significantly improve carbohydrate tolerance and inhibit the production of fatty acids in adipose (fat) tissue.
Increased Nutrient Absorption:
MCTs, improve the absorption of calcium and magnesium in premature infants. One study looked at 34 pre-term infants. The children were divided into three groups and fed various formulas.
Group 1 had corn oil, oleic, and coconut oil (39:41:20); Group 2: MCT, corn oil, and coconut oil (40:40:20); Group 3: MCT and corn oil (80:20). The infants fed MCT-containing methods absorbed significantly more calcium than the control group. Magnesium absorption was substantially improved in the 80% MCT group.
These same groups were then analyzed for protein absorption and nitrogen content. The 80% MCT group had substantial improvements in nitrogen absorption and amino acid sparing. This means the body will be more efficient at preserving and building lean body tissue when using MCT oil.
The production of ketones has important anticonvulsive properties in the brain that have long been used as a treatment for individuals with epilepsy. The classic ketogenic diet which is LCFA based that is used for anti-convulsive benefits is made up of 87% of the calories from fat. This is extremely hard to follow, and agreement is often minimal.
The use of MCTs, which as described are highly ketogenic, makes it much easier to get into and stay in ketosis. An MCT based nutrition plan only depends upon 60-70% of calories from fat which allows one to handle some solid nutrient sources of carbohydrate and protein. The variety of the food provides more micronutrients, has greater range and is more enjoyable.
Improved Athletic Performance:
MCTs are an elite fuel for athletes or anyone who is performing some physical exertion. This is due to their fast rate of absorption through the digestive tract, active metabolic conversion into cellular energy and their high energy density.
Many athletes find significant performance benefits using MCTs both pre and post workout. They are the best form of fat to use right before (within 2 hours) and directly after exercise due to their quick mobilization and use for repairing muscles and blocking the catabolic breakdown of proteins after rigorous training.
Appetite Control and Weight Loss:
Research has shown that MCTs suppress the appetite which helps individuals who struggle with intense cravings and overeating. In a 14 day study, six healthy males were put on three different unlimited diets: a little MCT diet, a medium MCT diet, and a high MCT diet.
The study authors found a significantly lower calorie consumption for those on the high MCT diet. The scientists explained how substituting MCTs for other fat causes can limit excess caloric intake and resulting weight gain.
Some studies had also revealed that when overweight and obese people were put on higher MCT oil diets, they were able to lose more weight and had better energy even though they were consuming fewer calories.
MCTs or Medium Chain Triglycerides are fatty acids of a particular length, as the name implies. MCT oil is an oil built up on one or more of these medium chain triglycerides, and it is a clear and tasteless liquid at room temperature.
Medium Chain Fatty Acids vs. Long or Short Chain
All fats are made of carbon and hydrogen, but they vary in length. By definition, “Short Chain” fatty acids have 5 or fewer carbons, medium chains have 6-12 and long chain fatty acids have more than 12.
Medium Chain Triglycerides are viewed to be readily absorbable and beneficial fats, and rather than being metabolized through digestion like most other foods, these fats are processed in the liver. MCTs provide fast and lasting energy and are quickly absorbed by the body.
The fatty acids below are all classified as Medium Chain Fatty Acids (MCFAs):
Caproic acid also called hexanoic acid (C6-six carbons)
Caprylic Acid, also known as Octanoic acid (C8-8 carbons)
Capric Acid, also known as Decanoic acid (C10-10 carbons)
Lauric Acid, also called Dodecanoic acid (C12- 12 carbons)
MCT oil can be a mixture of one or more of these types of MCFAs and is typically extracted from coconut or palm oil, which are both abundant natural sources. MCFAs are also found in human breast milk, goats milk, cheese, butter, and other types of dairy.
Whether consumed in the whole form from coconut or palm oil or in a concentrated MCT form, these triglycerides have any benefits.
MCT Oil Benefits
The unique structure of medium-chain fatty acids make them beneficial in many ways:
Easier to Digest:
MCTs don’t need bile salts to be digested and can pass straight through the digestive system to the blood stream without being changed by conversion like long chain fats. This makes it easier to digest and utilize than long chain fatty acids. Because they are so easy to absorb and use, MCTs are often a good choice for those who struggle with digestive problems, fat absorption or lack a gallbladder.
Excellent Source of Energy
Since MCTs are processed in the liver, they are absorbed quickly and provide fast and sustained energy. MCTs, move indifferently via the hepatic portal system to the liver without the need for a longer digestive process. Unlike nearly all other foods, MCTs do not require energy to be absorbed, stored or used in the body, making them an almost perfect source of natural energy.
Since fats are needed for proper hormone creation and balance in the body, MCTs may offer unique benefits for those struggling with hormone imbalance. There is also research implying that medium chain fats may be beneficial for sustaining a healthy weight by helping balance hormones and improving insulin sensitivity.
MCTs have antiviral plus antibacterial qualities, and there is some evidence that they may help balance gut bacteria and combat pathogenic bacteria. They also offer the digestive method a break because the body so readily utilizes them. When used with a healthy diet and other ways to support gut bacteria, MCTs may help improve gut health over time.
The same antiviral and antibacterial features make MCTs beneficial for immune as well. Healthy fats are essential for the proper immune role, and since MCTs can be more easily used by the body, this may be especially beneficial for those who have trouble absorbing fats and who struggle with immune function.
With the emerging demand of MCT oil, many coconut oil companies possess that coconut oil is naturally high in MCTs, but there are some important caveats! MCT oil companies like to boast that their products are “more concentrated” than coconut oil (which is also true), yet it also doesn’t include one useful form of MCT.
Maybe you’ve read that coconut oil is 62% MCT oil. It is, yet not necessarily in the same form, you would find in MCT oil. That 62% is made up of a combination of the four types of MCFAs posted above. All of these forms are beneficial, but when a person buys an “MCT oil,” he or she is typically trying to apply Capric acid (C10) and Caprylic Acid (C8) to there diet.
The MCFA composition of coconut oil is largely from lauric acid (C12), which some biochemists argue is not a real medium chain fatty acid since it acts differently in the body. It is also tremendously beneficial, but for different reasons.
Lauric Acid: The Real Story
Lauric acid is the idea that coconut oil organizations claim that coconut oil is better than MCT oil. It is also the reason that MCT oil companies argue that MCT oil is better than coconut. And they are both right, but for different reasons.
Oils ended as “MCT oil” contain either a combination of Capric and Caprylic acid or just thought Caprylic acid, making them a faster and more valuable source of energy. They often don’t include Lauric Acid (C12), which acts like a sequence long chain and medium chain fatty acid in the body, making it slower to digest.
The governing fatty acid in coconut oil, on the other hand, is lauric acid, which contains 50% of the entire fat content. Coconut oil also contains a very nominal amount of Caproic Acid (C6), about 6% Caprylic Acid (C8) and about 9% Capric Acid (C10).
So coconut oil is an excellent source of MCFAs, but the amount depends on if you think Lauric Acid (C12) a medium chain triglyceride or a long one. If you ask a chemist, and you may be told it is a medium-chain fatty acid. If you ask a biochemist, and you may be told it is a long-chain fatty acid. Either way, it’s beneficial.
Lauric acid is naturally antimicrobial, antibacterial and antiviral. It is wonderful for the skin, and it has even been considered for its possible ability to help with critical acne for this reason. Coconut oil is the richest natural source, followed by human breast milk, which contains up to 20% of its saturated fat content as lauric acid. Also a side note to nursing moms: some studies have shown that consuming coconut oil helps improve the lauric acid content of milk produced.
While in digestion, lauric acid is converted monolaurin, an essential element for optimal immune function. MCT oil doesn’t contain lauric acid. While the Caprylic and Capric acids in MCT oil have some antiviral and antibacterial properties of their own, they don’t include lauric acid and won’t help the body produce monolaurin.
Long story short:
To have fast and lasting energy concentrated MCT oil is more beneficial
For Lauric acid and its immune benefits, coconut oil is the superstar
Coconut oil and MCT oil are both useful in their ways, and I use them both in different ways. Coconut oil is typically cheaper and supports the immune system, while MCT oil is tasteless and provides faster energy.