Welcome to another week of More Than Healthy as we continue to share a Full Year of Resolutions. Today we are going to talk about Tip #32, the health benefits of MCT oil. Have you heard about MCT, or Medium-Chain Triglyceride, oil? I’m going to be up front with you right from the start… MCT oil can be a controversial topic. Many doctors say it is completely fine to take MCT oil on a regular basis. They support its use because it helps to increase your healthy oil intake. They also like that your liver can turn MCT oil into ketones (this is the goal of a keto diet), and used to fuel your mitochondria (more on this in a minute).
Always check with your doctor
However, there are some doctors who are concerned that MCT oil will raise your triglycerides and cholesterol levels. So let’s start this post with an important caution. As we encourage with all of our More Than Healthy tips, please check with your doctor before making any major changes. If your doctor is like ours, he won’t have any problem with adding MCT oil to your diet; he’ll simply watch your blood work to make sure it doesn’t adversely impact your cholesterol levels.
Because there are some varying opinions on this topic, we are going to stick to quoting our doctor and share our own experience with MCT oil. We have liked adding MCT oil to our diets. David and I are working on getting more healthy oils into our body, and this helps us accomplish that goal. We have also found it helps keep us feeling satiated longer. But before we get into the specific benefits we’ve experienced, let’s talk about what MCT oil is.
What is MCT oil?
MCT oil is another one of the good types of fatty acids. It’s important to remember that fat is not the villain it was made out to be for a few decades past. There are actually many important fats that are vital to our health. In fact, those healthy fatty acids are “essential,” meaning we need them in order to function, but cannot produce them on our own. We have to consume them. (For lots more information on this topic, please see our posts on Tip #28 and Tip #31.)
What makes MCT oil different is that it is a medium-chain triglyceride. Other fatty acids are short-chain (SCT) and long-chain (LCT) triglycerides. LCTs are fats found in meat, fish, avocados, nuts, seeds, and soybean oils. SCTs are found in flax, chia, hemp, canola oil, and walnuts, and are produced by the body as a result of digesting fiber. Both LCTs and SCTs are found in olive oil. We need all three kinds, long, short, and medium-chain triglycerides, in proper amounts, for our health.
But the great thing about some medium-chain fatty acids, like the caproic and capric acids found in MCT oil, is that they don’t even need to be digested. They skip the stomach completely. They move right through the gut and head straight to the liver, where they are converted into ketones. Ketones are made when your liver turns fat into energy. Because of the unique way that MCT is absorbed, it is more likely to be used as energy and less likely to be stored as body fat.
Where can you find MCTs?
MCTs only occur naturally in coconut oil, palm oil, full-fat cow and goat milk, and human breast milk. In fact, these healthy fats are the main lipid found in breast milk, and are absolutely vital to the healthy growth and development of the baby.
MCT oil is a highly-concentrated source of medium-chain triglycerides. It’s made by extracting and isolating the MCTs from coconut or palm kernel oil. They typically contain either 100% caprylic acid (C8), 100% capric acid (C10), or a combination of the two.
Here are five benefits we’ve experienced from adding MCT oil to our daily regimen:
Benefit # 1: MCT oil is a super energy source
MCT oil can be almost completely converted to ketones, which are the ideal fuel source for your mitochondria. You might know by now that we here at More Than Healthy are fans of protecting our mitochondria, and invested in anything that will help protect and strengthen them.
What are mitochondria, and why do they matter?
Mitochondria are those little power houses in your cells. You can think of them as the cell power plant. They supply the energy for the cells to operate. Mitochondria convert chemical energy from the food we eat into adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, which is energy that the cell can use. Tissues in our body that need lots of energy, like our muscles, have many more mitochondria than other tissues, such as nerves. Mitochondria have their own DNA, separate from the rest of your body, and they replicate independently in a simple process called “fission.” Mitochondria are present in nearly all of our human cells, and they are completely vital to our survival.
The many jobs of mitochondria
But, mitochondria have many other jobs besides producing cellular energy. They also assist in the process of cell death, or apoptosis. As our cells become old or broken, they are cleared away and destroyed. This is a healthy and important process in the life cycle of a cell. Mitochondria help decide which cells are destroyed.
They release an enzyme which destroys cells during apoptosis. Certain diseases like cancer involve a breakdown in normal apoptosis, so studies suggest they help prevent the emergence of cancer cells. Given David’s history, we are always interested in anything that can help prevent cancer.
In addition, mitochondria help to absorb calcium ions and hold them until they are needed. Calcium is critical for muscle function, fertilization, and blood clotting, so our cells regulates it carefully. Mitochondria is necessary for this process.
Mitochondria and the importance of ‘brown fat’
And, interestingly, mitochondria help us generate heat. Usually, when we are cold, we shiver to keep warm. But the body has other ways of generating heat as well. During a process called proton leak, mitochondria can generate heat known as non-shivering thermogenesis. This involves a tissue called brown fat, or adipose tissue, which is a special type of body fat that gets activated when we’re cold. (This is how certain mammals are able to hibernate through winter.)
Brown fat has many more mitochondria than typical white fat. We’re fans of brown fat, because it is able to use regular body fat as fuel. As we age our brown fat levels reduce, so we’re all about doing anything we can to improve brown fat levels, such a fueling our mitochondria with MCT oil.
Well-fueled cells = energy we can use
It makes sense that when you do things that improve your mitochondria, you increase your energy output. This extra energy is the biggest reason we are fans of taking MCT oil regularly. Those MCTs go straight to the liver, which converts them to ketones, which are the ideal fuel source for those all-important mitochondria. And when our cells are well-fueled, that means more energy for us to use as we go throughout the day.
Benefit #2: MCT oil can help you lose weight
At More Than Healthy, we don’t promote weight loss. However, we do promote optimal health, and a natural side effect of getting healthy is to lose any extra, unhealthy weight you might be carrying. As we help clients along their health journey, we love to give tips on how we keep our weight in line.
It’s been fascinating to watch this part of David’s health journey. Over the past four years, he has dramatically increased his healthy fat intake. As he’s consumed more fat, his weight has dropped, and he wasn’t even trying to lose weight! His body returned to the size it was in high school. Just like Dr. Gundry told us, your body will “right size” when you stop eating offending foods and start eating more of what your body needs and likes. It turns out, the body really does need and like healthy fats.
Fat burning through ketosis
Studies show that consumption of MCT oil can support weight loss. We’ve already touched on one of the reasons why. MCTs are converted into ketones. Your body actually breaks down fat to produce more ketones when carbohydrate intake is limited. This is how a keto diet works – and taking MCT oil can help you stay in that fat-burning state of ketosis. Although David and I do not follow a keto diet protocol, we know many people who have had great results through doing so.
Studies also show that MCT oil releases two hormones, peptide YY and leptin, which help you feel full. This is something David and I experience when we add MCT oil to our morning smoothies. One particular study found that people who took 2 tablespoons of MCT oil as part of their breakfast ate less food at lunch compared to those taking coconut oil. It also found that MCT oil induced a lower rise in triglycerides and glucose, which probably helps maintain that feeling of fullness. There are additional studies that link MCT oil to reduced body weight and waist circumference.
So, although weight loss wasn’t a reason we added MCT to our regular regimen, we do think it is one of the health benefits of MCT oil.
Benefit #3: MCT oil improves the gut microbiome
One of the most important things we need to do for our overall health is to maintain healthy gut bacteria. Did you know that somewhere between 70-80% of our immune system is housed in the gut? Most of us know that what we eat affects our weight and energy during the day. But do we realize how much it affects our immune system, and therefore our overall health?
The gut microbiome affects your body from the moment you are born. In addition to helping you digest food and turn it into energy for survival, it controls how your body responds to infection, affects brain health, plays an important role in cholesterol regulation and heart health, and helps control blood sugar. At More Than Healthy, we believe that our health begins with the gut.
MCT oil optimizes the growth of good bacteria, rebalancing the diversity of the microorganisms in the gut, which is essential for gut health. It also strengthens the intestinal barrier and supports the gut lining. This was especially important to us, as healing David’s leaky gut was absolutely key to solving all of his other health issues.
A healthy gut protects you
We’ve shared a lot about this (check out previous posts here and here, as well as our book, available here), but as a quick recap, our gut biome is located in the small intestine. The wall of our gut is lined with villas that are like little fingers. This gut lining protects the rest of the body from toxins. Now matter how careful we are, it’s impossible to avoid toxins, and the body is programmed to get rid of them. But when the health of our gut is compromised, the gut wall begins to leak. Those toxins can then enter the bloodstream and wreak serious havoc on our health. That’s why working to keep your gut microbiome healthy is so important. MCT oil is an easy why to help do that.
Benefit #4: MCT oil increases brain-energy output
In years past, it was believed that the brain could only use glucose for energy. However, it has since been proven that ketones can cross the blood-brain barrier and provide energy to the brain cells. This allows the brain cells to better survive and thrive. MCT oil also blocks a receptor in the brain that causes memory loss.
Ketones, together with lactate, are the main alternative fuels for the brain. However, too much lactate, which produces that lactic acid stored in sore muscles, can decrease stamina and reduce performance during exercise. Studies show that MCTs reduce the buildup of lactate levels. Both ketones and lactate are able to cross the blood-brain barrier and fuel the brain.
I don’t know about you, but when my brain has more energy, my whole body has more energy! Keeping my brain well-fueled is very important to me.
Consider this experience, as told by my husband, David:
“In my early 50s, I had all kinds of energy. I could work super long hours at my business and then head out on a 50-mile bike ride or a 15-mile run. But as I started approaching my late 50s, I saw a real decline in my energy levels. I know part of it was due to my back problems and part of it (as we found out later) was because I had cancer. But I now know that some of it was simply because I was in such poor overall health.
Now I am in my mid-sixties, and after working hard to reclaim my health, I have so much more energy than I did 7 years ago! I’m living by the philosophy that I used to have during my younger years, which is, “I work hard and then I play harder.” My mind is so much sharper than it was back then, too. I’m so excited for my future as we learn and apply all of these things that are making my mind and body stronger and healthier than it’s been in years. ”
That’s a pretty compelling testimonial. And I attest it is 100% true. I’m so thankful for the changes David has made that have given him – and us – a renewed and vibrant lease on life.
Benefit #5: MCT oil is good for heart health
Like all the healthy oils we’ve talked about previously, MCT oil can have a positive effect on your heart health. This is really the main reason Dr. Gundry wanted David to increase his good oils. Studies show that MCT oil reduces total cholesterol in the liver significantly better than other healthy oils such as olive oil. That same study found that MCT oil reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Another study shows that MCT oil improves levels of heart-protective (good) HDL cholesterol. MCT is also shown to improve serum lipid levels. It can even significantly reduce C-reactive protein (CRP), which is an inflammatory marker increasing the risk for heart disease. All these factors improve heart health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
You might remember David talking about his PULS score, and how he is still at a risk for heart disease. But he is making progress! And, as he continues to eliminate the bad fats and increase all these good fats, he will continue to reduce his risk for a heart attack. That alone is enough motivation to continue adding MCT oil to our daily regimen.
Which MCT oil do we use
The MCT oil that we like is Organic MCT Oil. We just add a tablespoon a day into our smoothies or green drink each morning. If you want to start trying it, I suggest adding a teaspoon and then working up to a tablespoon over the course of a couple weeks. You’ll be able to tell if your body has any adverse reactions. If you experience any diarrhea, abdominal pain, gastric reflux, nausea, or headache, then MCT oil may not be for you. That will simply be your body’s way of telling you that.
This is what I love about functional nutrition. Nothing is one-size-fits-all! And everybody is unique and different. Our approach is to try it, and then journal your body’s response to it. Have your doctor check your bloodwork regularly, and then make an informed decision about what is working for YOUR body.
Are the health benefits of MCT oil for you?
Have you ever tried adding MCT oil to your diet? We’d love to hear more about your experience. We’re also alway so happy to answer any questions you might have. You can leave them below, or reach out on any of our social media sites.
For those of you interested in our free coaching calls, we do them once a month on a Tuesday night at 6 PM MST. Anyone can join us. Just text COACHING to 1-647-558-9895 to get on our email list or watch our social media pages for the link.
Catch you next week for our next More Than Healthy tip!