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How MCT & Coconut Oil Work

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Whether you are a fan of coffee with butter or have just heard someone you know discuss the Bulletproof coffee craze, medium chain triglycerides (MCT) has probably crossed your radar recently.

Our modern (western) consumerist culture is especially prone to wonder-products, such as MCT oil, but few research options can give you an objective view of questions like “what is MCT oil?” or comparing MCT oil vs. coconut oil.

Specifically, we will focus on the best MCT oil for the purposes of improving your brain health and we will help you to understand how MCT oil works.

MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil: Is There a Real Difference?

For a basic understanding, the term MCT oil refers to the fatty acids that have medium-chain triglycerides that interact with human biology differently than long chain triglycerides (LCT).

Briefly, the main MCTs are as follows:

  • C6 (Caproic Acid) – There isn’t a high quantity of C6 fatty acids in coconut oil and it might be a good thing. Despite being a ready source of ketone energy for your body, it can cause throat irritation and gastrointestinal distress. Studies on piglets showed how effective C6 can be for energy in the brain [1].
  • C8 (Caprylic Acid) – This is a rare type of MCT, which is rare (only 6% of coconut oil) and useful for energy metabolism. It seems the value of C8 might be inflated by Dave Asprey because of his selling Brain Octane Oil.
  • C10 (Capric Acid) – Another major MCT is C10, which is approximately 9% of coconut oil and is considered a useful tool for energy metabolism because (like other MCTs) does not require bile salts for digestive purposes. In short, it’s easy to digest and convert to energy.
  • C12 (Lauric Acid) – This is technically considered a medium chain triglyceride and thus a source of debate in health and biochemistry communities. It is with lauric acid that the question of MCT oil vs. coconut oil becomes most present.

The C12 lauric acid is considered an MCT, but behaves like a LCT because it must visit our liver before being turned into energy. This makes it less effective than many of the other MCT oils [2] and it so happens this is the main component of coconut oil.

Approximately 50% of coconut oil is comprised of lauric acid, which means there is less of the others (which are more potent for your brain from an energy perspective).

Does this make MCT oil better than coconut oil?

Answer: No. You should get a balance of MCT oil and coconut oil (lauric acid) and here’s why.

One rule of thumb that may make your life easier is to cook with coconut oil and use MCT oil for your Bulletproof coffee or supplementation purposes. Alternatively, you can cook with both at the same time!

Energy Benefits of MCT Oil

A common reason for consuming MCT oil is because of the teachings of Dave Asprey, the Bulletproof Exec [3]. Thus, many entrepreneurs, biohacking enthusiasts, and individuals seeking high mental performance have turned to MCT oils in their morning coffee to have more mental energy.

The benefits of MCT oil for energy metabolism are partially true. The MCT oil does not need to pass through the lymphatic system and require bile salts for digestion [4]. This may be particularly useful for those with absorption problems, but it is generally useful as well.

The most affirming research was published in the American Society for Nutrition Services in 1997. This study showed that MCT oil only requires 3 steps for the body to turn it into ATP (energy for all your cells) versus sugar which takes 26 steps [5].

If you are used to a bowl of breakfast cereal or bagel, the carbohydrates (sugar) may not be providing you the most efficient mental energy for your work tasks.

Neurodegenerative Diseases and MCT Oil

There are currently around 5.1 million elderly Americans who is suffering from some type of dementia. This trend results in nearly 33% of all seniors dying with one of these degenerative diseases [7].

With so many people of all races and social classes falling victim to neurodegenerative diseases, it is no wonder MCT oil studies have found their way to research scientists. One Neurodegenerative Disease Management study found that MCT oil alone could be useful for patients suffering mild to moderate neurodegeneration.

Another study focused on C8 caprylic acid (the one in small quantities of coconut oil, but larger quantities in MCT oil) and the specific benefits as an alternative energy source for the brain to solve symptoms of these conditions [10].

Researchers theorize MCT oil based ketogenic diets may also be beneficial for patients who are suffering from Parkinson’s disease [11].

It seems for long term neurological protection, using MCT oil specifically can have profound benefits in the long-term. While many studies look at MCT oil combined with a ketogenic diet, it is nonetheless useful to see the connection for the brain over other forms of fat… especially when coconut oil tastes so good!

MCT Oil Weight Loss and Ketosis

MCT oil will not make you shed pounds of fat to get you in-shape with a beach body. However, the evidence supporting MCT oil weight loss benefits are compelling. In one 2003 study of International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, researchers found more fat burning with MCT than LCT. Using MCT was related to a greater loss of body weight than other fats [12].

In other research, MCT oil helped to increase insulin sensitivity, which has implications for healthy adults and especially diabetics and severely overweight individuals [13].

For many, MCT oil benefits are specifically related to ketogenic diets and going into a more ketogenic state. Using MCT oil as part of the ketogenic diet is considered more “palatable” than the generic ketogenic option [14].

Here are a few other things to keep in mind for weight loss and MCTs:

  • MCT oil has around 10% fewer calories than LCT (8.4 kcal / g vs. 9.2 kcal / g) [15]
  • Because of quick MCT absorption, they are less likely stored as fat
  • MCT oil can make you feel more full through hormones like leptin so that you eat less [16]

Where to Buy MCT Oil with Healthy Manufacturing

Now that you’ve learned why medium chain triglycerides are useful, you may be considering where to buy MCT oil. Before finding the cheapest (or most expensive) option, it is best to consider manufacturing processes. After all, despite the benefits of MCT oil, it must be extracted (i.e: processed) in ways that could be potentially hazardous.

Removing the MCT oil (specifically separating lauric acid from the rest) is the most difficult part of the manufacturing process and usually requires chemicals. For many of the cheaper MCT oil options (such as Now Foods), the process includes a chemical recombination of refined coconut oil fatty acids with synthetic vegetable based ester, which leaves residue and could cause MCT oil side effects.

Supposedly, the processing of certain higher end brands uses triple steam distillation rather than chemical solvents with names like hexane (yikes!) and sodium methoxide (ew!). Whether these details make a large difference is unknown, but if you are willing to invest the money into MCT oil, you might as well go all the way to the best.

That doesn’t mean you have to buy Brain Octane from Dave Asprey. You can get a more affordable glass bottle MCT oil from Wild Foods for much cheaper.


  1. //jn.nutrition.org/content/127/6/1061.full
  2. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC90807/
  3. //www.bulletproofexec.com/
  4. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15544546
  5. //jn.nutrition.org/content/127/6/1061.full
  6. //www.reddit.com/r/Nootropics/comments/11rbsq/racetams_mct_oil_better_than_coffee/
  7. //www.alz.org/facts/
  8. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3437664/
  9. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20193764
  10. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4202787/
  11. //journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fphar.2012.00059/full
  12. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12975635
  13. //www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0958694606001609
  14. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23515148
  15. //nutritionreview.org/2013/04/medium-chain-triglycerides-mcts/
  16. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4192077/


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