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What are Medium Chain Triglycerides?

By M. J. Memon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) are a type of fat. Fats derived from long chain fatty acids contain at least 12 carbon atoms, while medium chain triglycerides have at least six carbon atoms and no more than ten. This chemical structure give MCTs properties that have been found useful to people suffering from nutritional deficiencies due to certain health problems, athletes, epileptics, and others. Medium chain triglycerides are naturally found in varying proportions in coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and some dairy fats. Pure MCTs can also be purchased in supplement form.

There are no known drug contraindications with medium chain triglycerides, and they are safe in moderation for most healthy people. An excessive intake of MCTs has been found to raise cholesterol, however. They also should not be the sole source of fat in the diet. Some long chain fatty acids, such as omega-6, are crucial to health.

MCTs have been found to have a number of potential benefits due to their effect on metabolism and blood sugar levels. Medium chain triglycerides are more easily digested than long chain fatty acids, which is useful for some individuals whose bodies cannot properly absorb other fats. MCTs have been found to heighten metabolism, though significant weight loss would require extremely high daily consumption. Current research also indicates that they increase lean tissue while decreasing body fat.

Surprisingly, medium chain triglycerides are lower in calories than other fats — around 8.3 calories a gram. Even more than other fats, MCTs have been found to have a satiating effect upon the appetite, which can be useful for dieters. Consumption has also been found to moderately decrease blood sugar levels.

A diet high in MCTs causes the body to undergo a state called ketosis. Ketosis has been found to help control epileptic seizures in patients who do not respond to anticonvulsant medications. Many athletes use MCTs as an energy source. Unlike other fats, MCTs are taken up by the liver without first being partially disassembled by bile acids secreted by the liver. The body actually processes them similarly to carbohydrates, but without the rise in blood sugar carbohydrates cause.

MCTs can upset digestion, so initially they should be taken in small amounts with other foods and gradually increased to the desired amount. Natural sources of MCTs, such as coconut oil, can also be used in cooking and baking. Pure MCTs in liquid or capsule supplements should not be heated.

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