MCT Oil: Science-Backed Health Benefits and Side Effects

  • The benefits of MCT oil include helping you lose weight, improve your cognitive functioning, and increase your athletic performance.
  • While MCT oil can be found naturally in foods like coconut oil and goat’s milk, you must supplement it with 100% MCT oil for maximum health benefits.
  • Make sure you only eat four to seven tablespoons of MCT oil a day, as more than that could cause side effects like unintended weight gain, bloating, and diarrhea.
  • Visit the Insider’s Health Reference library for more tips.

MCT oil is a dietary supplement made 100% with medium chain triglycerides (MCT), a type of fat. This supplement can be purchased in the vitamin, mineral, and supplement section of most grocery stores or health food stores.

Here’s what you need to know about the health benefits of MCT oil and whether you should try it.

What is MCT oil?

MCTs are slightly shorter than long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), which are found in most fats, like butter. MCTs have fewer carbon atoms and therefore a different chemical structure than LCTs. As a result, they are digested more quickly than long-chain fatty acids, which can provide some health benefits.

“Medium chain fatty acids are more easily absorbed and do not require pancreatic enzymes or bile to be digested,” says Brittany Modell, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian based in Manhattan, New York. In fact, the body digests MCTs in the liver, while other fats are initially digested in the stomach.

MCTs are found naturally in certain foods, but they make up variable amounts of their total fat content:

However, unlike these foods, MCT oil is a 100% MCT supplement.

1. MCT oil can help you lose weight

MCTs are absorbed faster than other fats by the body. Therefore, your body can quickly convert it to energy once consumed, which means it is less likely to be stored as fat.

In a small 2010 study of overweight people between the ages of 19 and 50, participants consumed 18 to 24 grams per day of MCT oil or olive oil for 16 weeks as part of a weight loss program. It found that those who took MCT oil lost more weight and more fat than those who consumed olive oil.

MCT oil is also a useful addition to the keto diet, which is a high-fat, low-carb diet. By drastically reducing your carbohydrate intake, your body burns fat for energy instead of glucose, the type of sugar found in the blood that comes from the carbohydrates you eat. This can lead to fat loss.

MCTs are also slightly less calorie dense than LCTs. One gram of MCT has 8.3 calories, while one gram of LCT has 9.2 calories.

2. MCT oil can improve brain and memory function

The brain cannot use fat for energy like the rest of your body, so it relies on glucose as its main energy store.

An early sign of Alzheimer’s disease is reduced glucose metabolism in the brain, which means that your brain cannot properly convert glucose into energy. When this happens, your brain draws on other energy sources called ketone bodies. Ketone bodies are a product of fat metabolism and are produced in the liver.

Since MCTs are fats that are broken down by the liver, their consumption can help increase the production of ketone bodies. This increases the available energy stores in the brain, which can improve memory and brain function in people with Alzheimer’s.

A small 2019 study found that Japanese patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s saw an improvement in their scores on immediate and delayed memory tests after 12 weeks of supplementing with a formula containing 20 grams of MCT.

3. MCT can increase athletic performance and energy levels

Because MCTs are easily digested and absorbed into the bloodstream, they can be a good source of quick energy for workouts.

“Long-chain fatty acids have to go through several different steps before being absorbed,” Modell says. This means that it takes longer for your body to process LCT than MCT and use fat for energy.

A small 2009 study had athletes consume foods with MCT or TBI for a total of two weeks. The study measured blood lactate levels, VO2 max. And the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) of the participants, which indicates how hard the body is working, at rest and during exercise at the beginning and end of the study. The group that received MCT for two weeks had lower levels of blood lactate and RPE than the LCT group.

Blood lactate levels correlate with lactic acid build-up in muscles during exercise, causing a burning sensation. Too much lactic acid can force you to end your workout early due to discomfort. Therefore, reducing lactic acid build-up can help prolong the duration and intensity of exercise by curbing discomfort.

It is important to note that some research has found that MCT oil does not benefit athletic performance. Therefore, more studies are needed.

Side effects and dosage

As with any type of supplement, it is important to consume MCT in moderation. Jennifer Lefton, RD-AP, CNSC, FAND, a registered dietitian based in Arlington, Virginia, recommends consuming no more than four to seven tablespoons per day.

According to Modell, because MCTs are digested differently than most fats, it can lead to gastrointestinal problems if you consume too much. Some symptoms of this may include:

To avoid this, only consume small amounts of MCT oil at a time when you first introduce it into your diet.

Also, people should avoid consuming more than seven tablespoons of MCT oil because it is high in calories and can cause weight gain. “One tablespoon of MCT oil has 115 calories, so if you take four tablespoons a day, that could easily add up,” says Lefton.

Because MCTs are digested in the liver, people with liver disease should not take MCT oil. It’s also important not to replace all LCTs with MCTs, as both contain essential fatty acids that your body needs to function, Lefton says.

Takeaway from insider information

MCT oil is a unique type of fat that is processed differently in the body. While it can help with weight loss, cognitive functioning in people with Alzheimer’s, and athletic performance, more research is needed to know for sure. However, be sure to only consume four to seven tablespoons per day, as more than that can cause gas, bloating, or unintended weight gain. Also, if you have a liver problem, don’t take MCT oil.