Here at the Hoover Association, we have a lot of favorites, but perhaps the best bang for our buck (when it comes to improving our brain health) is called MCT oil. The MCT oil craze that has hit much of the western world is bringing to light an age-old truth: it’s simply better!
Medium-chain triglycerides are very different from the long chain triglycerides we most commonly consume. They occur naturally in coconuts, and MCT oil (usually coconut oil put through a centrifuge) is a relatively affordable supplement.
-Aids in fat loss
-Prevents fat gain
-Stimulates muscle growth
-Prevents arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries due to excess fat and cholesterol build up)
-Improves immune function
-Improves Cognitive Function
What the Science tells us:
As a fat loss aid:
MCTs are less calorically dense than Long chain triglycerides (8.3 calories per gram vs. 9), therefore replacing LCTs in the standard western diet with MCTs would lead to a greater deficit, and therefore greater fat loss.
Let’s say you replace half of your fat intake with purely MCTs, and let’s assume you are taking in 100g (round figure) of fat per day. Originally your daily caloric intake from fat would be 900 calories. If you replace half those fats with MCTs, your new caloric intake from fat will be 865 calories. This claim is invalid.
MCTs, increase energy expenditure (metabolic rate).
There have been quite a few studies done on this subject, all of which point to the same conclusion. While technically MCTs DO increase energy expenditure, the effect is very small. When it comes to measuring changes in body composition effected by this, the results are statistically insignificant.
While this is technically true, it’s ability to raise energy expenditure enough to create a larger caloric deficit is minuscule.
MCTs are highly satiating, so they work well as an appetite suppressant.
The theory is that MCTs are difficult to get in our diet, so when we have them in abundance, our brain tells us we’re full. The brain uses Glucose as a primary energy source, and when blood sugar drops our brain gets tired and tells us we need more fuel. However, our brain can also use ketone bodies as energy, and this energy source lasts much longer than glucose. MCTs, convert quickly and easily to ketone bodies. So, this means our brain has fuel for a longer period of time post-feeding with MCTs than traditional higher-carb meals.
This claim is valid. Anecdotally, I can say that when I put coconut oil in my coffee, I don’t have the urge to eat lunch until after my work day (typically 10-12 hours after breakfast). When I skip the coconut oil, I take a lunch break because I feel hungry by 5-6 hours post-breakfast.
As a fat-gain inhibitor
MCTs are absorbed quickly and efficiently, and this increased metabolic turnover prevents calories from MCTs to be stored as fat.
This claim is as invalid as the claim that insulin spikes lead to fat gain. Fat gain is a function of a caloric surplus. MCTs WILL store as adipose tissue (fat) if you are in a surplus.
As a muscle-building supplement
Thought: Since MCTs are so easily converted into ketones, your body will spare protein to be used solely for protein synthesis (muscle gain) instead of energy.
The natural male can synthesize about 5-8g of protein per day. Conscious strength trainees consume about 1g of protein per lb. of bodyweight. There is plenty of extra protein to be used as energy after the maximum amount of protein synthesis possible has taken place.
Also, unless you are in a ridiculous deficit, protein “sparing” is not something one should be concerned with.
This claim is invalid.
As an arteriosclerosis preventative
Arteriosclerosis occurs when fat and cholesterol build up in the arteries and cause hardening. MCTs are more efficiently converted into energy than LCTs, therefore lead to less artery clogging muck.
If someone is on a high enough fat diet to lead to arteriosclerosis replaces 50% of their fat intake to MCTs, the chances of buildup in arteries greatly decrease.
This claim is valid for those on extremely high-fat diets.
As an immune system enhancing supplement
The biological mechanism behind this is not known (as far as I know).
Studies on rats have shown that rats given MCT serum injections are more resilient to autoimmune disease.
Not enough evidence to support this claim exists.
As a Cognitive enhancing supplement
Ketones are a highly efficient energy pathway for the brain, and MCTs convert to ketone bodies easily. Therefore, the brain functions better.
This is an interesting claim because some studies suggest that MCTs help reduces the symptoms of mental conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s and other age-related mental diseases have been connected to metabolic problems like diabetes. This makes sense because if blood sugar drops, the brains primary energy pathway is limited. Studies have shown that epileptic people respond very well to ketogenic (low carb) diets because this changes the brains primary energy pathway from glucose to ketones. Theoretically, since MCTs raise blood-ketone concentration, it could have a similar effect.
Conclusion: For the average person, MCT supplements may be beneficial for appetite suppression and cognitive function. And, it tastes good in coffee! I would recommend coconut oil or MCT oil to anyone having issues maintaining a caloric deficit, or to those who need to go extended periods of time without food.