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.
MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil
This is where things get interesting. MCT oil is obtained from Coconut oil and Palm oil, which is considered excellent natural sources of Medium Chain Triglycerides.
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.
Here’s the deal
It depends on the individual type of MCT that you are trying to consume. Coconut oil is high in certain types of medium chain fatty acids, while straight MCT oil is a better source of others.
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.