MCT Oil For Weight Loss: What You Need To Know

You may have heard the term “MCT oil” used in conversations about health and wellness. MCT oil is a type of fat made up of medium-length triglycerides, or MCTs.

Many of the healthy fats you eat, such as olive oil and avocado, contain long-chain triglycerides (LCTs). These need to be digested before your body can use them as energy. MCTs, on the other hand, are a ready source of energy that can be directly absorbed into your bloodstream.

MCT oil is commonly extracted from coconut or palm kernel oil via a process called fractionation. Coconut oil contains about 50% MCTs. Four different types of MCTs exist, of which caprylic and capric acids are most commonly used to produce MCT oil.

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Does MCT oil help with weight loss?

MCT oil has garnered a lot of interest for its potential weight loss benefits.

One study compared the consumption of MCT oil and LCT oil (in the form of olive oil) in overweight people during a 16-week diet plan. By the end of the study, the participants who took MCT oil had a lower body weight than those taking LCT olive oil and reduced midsection and intra-abdominal fat mass

Another study compared two groups of overweight men who added either MCT oil or LTCs to their existing diet without any other changes being made. 

The study was designed to compare changes in body composition and energy expenditure. The group who ate a diet rich in MCTs experienced higher fat loss and energy expenditure than the LCT group. Researchers concluded that “MCTs may be considered as agents that aid in the prevention of obesity or potentially stimulate weight loss.”²

MCT oil, especially when consumed in liquid form, has been shown to increase satiety (feelings of fullness). Participants who were given MCT oil consumed fewer calories in subsequent meals than participants who were given LCTs.³

These studies indicate that adding MCT oil to your diet may reduce your overall calorie intake by increasing your feelings of fullness.

Since coconut oil contains high levels of MCTs, there is a widespread belief that it has similar satiety effects as consuming pure MCT oil. However, this does not appear to be the case,⁴ so if you want to take MCT oil specifically for weight loss, you cannot substitute it for coconut oil.

When MCT oil is consumed after a fasting period, such as taking it with breakfast after fasting overnight, it causes an increase in leptin and peptide YY (PYY) levels. Increased levels of these hormones are associated with appetite suppression and increased satiety.⁵ PYY is a hormone created in the small intestines that decreases appetite and causes you to feel full when it binds to brain receptors. Leptin is a hormone released from fat cells which sends signals to the brain (specifically the hypothalamus) to tell your body it does not require more energy, inhibiting hunger.

Health benefits of MCT oil

Along with weight loss benefits, MCT oil has been found to offer other health benefits for a variety of medical conditions.

Epilepsy

A ketogenic diet has been shown to support epilepsy management. Ketogenic diets have been used to help with seizure control for over 50 years.

MCT oil is a valuable addition to a ketogenic diet, as MCTs promote nutritional ketogenesis and can be converted easily to ketones in your liver.⁶

Alzheimer’s disease

A healthy brain uses glucose as its primary energy source. In Alzheimer’s dementia (AD), the brain becomes less efficient at utilizing glucose. In this situation, ketones provide an alternative source of energy for brain cells.

Several small studies have shown improved cognition in patients with AD who supplemented their diet with 20-70 grams of MCTs daily.⁷ ⁸ While the results are promising, larger, more comprehensive studies are needed to validate and quantify the effect.

Autism

The cause of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) remains unknown, but it appears increasingly likely to include a component of mitochondrial dysfunction. A ketogenic diet has been shown to enhance mitochondrial function and affect other molecular targets that may address symptoms of ASD.⁹

A ketogenic diet that includes supplementation with MCT oil has been shown to significantly improve symptoms in children with ASD. As a result of this positive finding, the role of MCT oil in the management of ASD warrants further investigation.¹⁰

Heart disease

Supplementing with MCT oil can help to reduce some of the risk factors for heart disease.

Taking a combination of MCT oil, phytosterols, and flaxseed oil was shown to have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels in overweight but otherwise healthy men. The results showed that their total cholesterol levels were reduced by 12.5% and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels by 13.9%.¹¹

C-reactive protein (CRP) is a marker of inflammation and consistently high CRP is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Rodent studies showed supplementation with MCT oil to help lower CRP.¹² Further clinical studies are necessary to confirm this effect in humans, but there is potential for MCT oil to lower inflammation.

How to take MCT oil

MCT oil can be consumed as you would olive oil. You can get creative with how you use your MCT oil: add it to salad dressings, drizzle it over roasted vegetables, blend it into smoothies, or even add it to your morning cup of coffee.

If you are cooking with MCT oil, avoid heating it to high temperatures as it has a low smoke point. As with olive oil, look for high-quality MCT oil to ensure its purity.

As MCT oil can trigger stomach discomfort if you aren’t used to taking it, it is recommended that you start with one teaspoon daily and slowly build up to two tablespoons a day as your body adjusts.

Possible side effects of MCT

Increased hunger

While MCT oil has been shown to support weight loss, some studies have shown that MCT supplementation can instead increase ghrelin levels. Ghrelin is a “hunger hormone,” which signals feelings of hunger. While MCT oil supplementation increased ghrelin levels, it was not clear from the studies whether it increased participants’ overall caloric intake.¹³

Fatty liver

Animal studies have shown that very high supplementation with MCT oil on top of a high-fat diet can lead to lipid (fat) accumulation in the liver. Interestingly, this was even the case where there was a decrease in insulin sensitivity and total body fat accumulation.

It is important to note that fat was only deposited in the liver when the subjects consumed very high doses of MCT that would be unlikely to be tolerated in human subjects.¹⁴

The lowdown

Supplementing with MCT oil may aid weight loss by increasing feelings of fullness, regulating the hormones responsible for appetite suppression, and decreasing total body fat. In addition to potential weight loss effects, MCT oil may also offer other health benefits, especially when used in combination with a ketogenic diet. There is evidence that MCT oil helps manage epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, and cardiovascular disease. MCT oil is generally considered safe in moderate doses.

  1. Weight-loss diet that includes consumption of medium-chain triacylglycerol oil leads to a greater rate of weight and fat mass loss than does olive oil (2008)

  2. Medium-chain triglycerides increase energy expenditure and decrease adiposity in overweight men (2003)

  3. Food intake and satiety response after medium-chain triglycerides ingested as solid or liquid (2019)

  4. Coconut oil has less satiating properties than medium chain triglyceride oil (2017)

  5. Impact of medium and long chain triglycerides consumption on appetite and food intake in overweight men (2015)

  6. Seizure control by ketogenic diet-associated medium chain fatty acids (2013)

  7. Effects of beta-hydroxybutyrate on cognition in memory-impaired adults (2004)

  8. Can ketones compensate for deteriorating brain glucose uptake during aging? Implications for the risk and treatment of Alzheimer's disease (2016)

  9. Metabolic dysfunction underlying autism spectrum disorder and potential treatment approaches (2017)

  10. A modified ketogenic gluten-free diet with MCT improves behavior in children with autism spectrum disorder (2018)

  11. Consumption of a functional oil rich in phytosterols and medium-chain triglyceride oil improves plasma lipid profiles in men (2003)

  12. Medium-chain triglycerides and monounsaturated fatty acids potentiate the beneficial effects of fish oil on selected cardiovascular risk factors in rats (2016)

  13. Ghrelin activation and neuropeptide Y elevation in response to medium chain triglyceride administration in anorexia nervosa patients (2017)

  14. A rich medium-chain triacylglycerol diet benefits adiposity but has adverse effects on the markers of hepatic lipogenesis and beta-oxidation (2017)

Have you considered clinical trials for Weight management?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Weight management, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

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