When it comes to nutrition, new trends pop up every year, and tons of new information along with them. How are you supposed to weed through all the information about new health trends, as quickly as they come (and sometimes go)?
Medium chain triglycerides, also commonly known as MCT, are all the rage right now. But what are they, and why do people think that they’re important for health? One reason is because there has been some indication that MCTs may play a role in weight and fat loss. Before we dive into this health trend, let’s first take a closer look at MCTs. What are they? How do they act in the body?
Essentially, medium chain triglycerides are a type of fat found in palm, coconut oil, and some dairy sources. These sources of MCTs are processed through a technique called fractionation. Fractionation means that MCT oil is separated from the rest of the plant to use as an individual dietary supplement.
They’re a bit different from the majority of fat we typically eat in our diet, long chain triglycerides (LCTs). LCTs have long carbon chains (greater than 12 carbon molecules in a row), and need to be digested and broken down before they can be absorbed and transported throughout the body. However, MCTs are short enough (between six and 12 carbon molecules long) to be directly absorbed. They are quickly transported to the liver to be used for immediate energy.
Because MCTs are absorbed a bit differently, they have a higher thermal effect in the body compared to LCTs. Basically this means that the body works harder to process this nutrient, and burns more calories in order to do so. As a result, MCTs are slightly lower in calories, about 10-15% lower than other fat sources.
MCT oil has some pretty specific uses. Because it doesn’t need to travel through the digestive system for breakdown and absorption, it is often used to supply calories and essential fatty acids to those with absorption issues. This may include individuals who have inflammatory bowel disease, like Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis, or who have shortened digestive tracts.  It also may be beneficial for those at risk or living with cardiovascular conditions, as MCT has been shown to decrease LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and increase HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol). 
It has been thought that because MCTs are metabolized differently than LCTs, they may affect our health a little differently. Aside from benefitting certain health conditions, the use of MCT is expanding drastically. Let’s take a look at one specific use of MCT that is being explored – weight loss.
One reason why MCT oil has become so popular is due to its suspected role in weight management. Sounds great, right? Let’s highlight the available research to see if this is a MCT fact or fiction.
The relationship between MCT and weight is largely due, in part, to the way that MCT affects our appetite. Some small studies have shown that intake of MCTs may play a role in appetite suppression, meaning that they can help us stay more full, longer. This has been shown to be true in a few studies where a few of the hormones involved in appetite suppression, leptin and peptide YY, were elevated after intake of MCT oil. Additionally, individuals who consumed MCT oil reported more satisfaction and feelings of fullness three hours after a meal compared to those without MCT oil. [4-5]
There have also been studies to observe that MCT oil was more effective than olive oil in participants who were attempting to lose weight. Not only were those taking MCT oil more successful in their weight loss goals, but they also had greater fat loss.  This was also observed in another study, in which men who supplemented MCT oil experienced greater fat loss compared to men who supplemented with LCTs. However, fat loss occurred more significantly in those who began with a lower body weight compared to those who started the study with a higher weight.  It’s important to note that there are many other lifestyle factors associated with appetite and weight loss that may have also played a role in the outcomes of these studies.
So, should you take MCT for weight loss? While the current research on MCT is interesting, it’s certainly clear that MCT isn’t a magic solution for weight loss. Other factors, like diet and exercise, must be considered. However, there is evidence to support that supplementing with MCT could add some small, additional benefit to weight loss attempts and appetite control. On top of all that, MCT is an easily absorbed source of essential nutrients, and also appears to have an impact on improving cholesterol levels.
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