MCTs For Metabolic Health

How MCTs Support Metabolic Health

They may have started out with a small cult following, but MCTs seem to be showing up everywhere these days and for good reason.

Research shows that these fatty acids may support your metabolic health in a number of ways and may even be the key to lasting weight loss. 

But are MCTs right for you? And what does the research really say? 

Read on to learn more. 

What Are MCTs?

MCTs are a type of fatty acid known as medium-chain triglycerides. While long-chain triglycerides are much more abundant in the food supply, MCTs can be found in foods like coconut oil, palm oil, and some dairy products. 

Due to their range of health benefits, MCTs are getting a lot of attention these days and you've likely begun to see containers of isolated MCTs on the shelves at local health food stores or nutrition shops. 

The primary difference between medium-chain fatty acids and long-chain fatty acids is how they’re absorbed and utilized by your body. 

While long-chain fatty acids have to take a trip through your lymphatic system before arriving at your liver to be converted to fuel or stored energy, MCTs get to skip the lymph and go straight to your liver. Here, they’re readily broken down and converted to fuel that you can use immediately[1].

Aside from their rapid absorption and breakdown, MCTs also provide several other benefits that can have a profound impact on your health. Research shows that metabolic health, in particular, is one area in which MCTs shine. 

MCTs For Metabolic Health

One of the most challenging health conditions we face in the United States is metabolic syndrome, estimated to affect around 25-35% of the population[2]

Metabolic syndrome is characterized by a cluster of conditions, including[3]:

  • High blood sugar
  • Obesity
  • Irregular blood lipids
  • Hypertension

Each of these factors can be dangerous on their own, but when clustered together, it can significantly increase your risk for diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet, along with a sedentary lifestyle, can set you up for metabolic syndrome and its associated diseases. 

But just as diet can be your poison, it can also be your medicine. MCTs, in particular, have a profound influence on your metabolic health, and play a supportive role in many of the conditions that lead to metabolic syndrome. 

Due to their unique metabolism, structure, and function, MCTs support blood sugar, cholesterol, metabolic rate, energy utilization, and weight management. 

Blood Sugar Regulation

Keeping your blood sugar stable can help keep cravings at bay and also keep your energy levels stable.

Most importantly, however, is the role that blood sugar regulation plays in diseases like diabetes. 

One of the primary complications associated with diabetes is insulin resistance. Insulin is the hormone that's responsible for shuttling blood glucose (blood sugar) into your cells to be used as energy or stored. When your cells become resistant to insulin, they can no longer respond to this crucial hormone's signals, and blood sugar can become elevated. 

Research shows that including MCTs in your diet can improve insulin sensitivity and help your body metabolize glucose. While most research has been conducted in either animals or humans with diabetes, the same effect appears to be true even if you're not diabetic[4][5][6]

Metabolic Rate

The rate at which you burn energy (i.e., calories) is your metabolic rate. Everyone has a different metabolic rate depending on their age, sex, exercise habits, and physical makeup. For instance, when you have more muscle mass, you increase your metabolic rate because muscle requires more energy than fat tissue. 

Therefore, having a “fast metabolism” or high metabolic rate is ideal if you want to burn calories and lose weight.

Research shows that MCTs can increase your daily energy expenditure by enhancing your metabolic rate. What’s more, it appears that this increased calorie burn comes from stored fat[7][8]

Studies indicate that one mechanism by which MCTs help to boost metabolism is by increasing the number of mitochondria in your skeletal muscle. As previously mentioned, muscle is a very energy-hungry tissue, and mitochondria are little energy powerhouses that live in your cells. By enhancing the number of mitochondria in your muscle, MCTs may give your metabolism a boost[9].

It also appears that the activation of your sympathetic nervous system may also play a role in the increased energy expenditure seen with MCTs[10]

Endurance and Exercise 

As you can imagine, if you’re expending more energy daily with MCTs, that also means you have more energy to expend. This can show up as a huge benefit for athletes or anyone looking for a good workout. 

By upregulating your mitochondrial function, your muscles have access to more energy, and they can tap into these energy stores faster. The result is increased endurance and overall exercise performance[11][9]

Furthermore, when your body has to break down a bunch of glucose during exercise, it can result in lactic acid buildup, which in turn results in sore and weak muscles. Since MCTs help your body target fat as its fuel source, you won't have to deal with the lactic acid buildup from carbs, which may result in a faster recovery time[11]

Cholesterol

Although clinical research is limited, animal models have shown that MCTs can positively impact cholesterol levels by enhancing the excretion of cholesterol out of the body via bile acids. 

In a study conducted on mice, researchers found that MCTs reduced the absorption of bile acids in the small intestine (one of the primary components of bile acids is cholesterol). Typically, bile acids are either excreted out of the body, or they're reabsorbed in the small intestine to be recycled. By blocking some of the reabsorption of bile acids, the MCTs increased the overall excretion of bile acids, and along with it, excess cholesterol[12].

In one clinical study, researchers gave a group of overweight participants a mixture of MCT oil, phytosterols and flaxseed oil or a placebo for 29 days. They found that after the trial the MCT group showed a significant drop in LDL cholesterol (nearly 14%). While this study doesn’t account for the confounding factors of phytosterols and flaxseed oil, it offers a promising step for future research[17] .

Appetite and Satiety

Whether you struggle with obesity, or you just have a few pounds to lose, nothing will throw you off track faster than a voracious appetite and food cravings. 

It would be one thing if your go-to snack to calm your cravings was celery and hummus, but it looks a little more like ice cream and pizza for most people. 

Therefore, keeping your appetite under control is crucial if you want to maintain a healthy weight. 

When you consume MCTs, they produce ketones, which are immediate sources of energy that have a different effect on your body than glucose. In fact, the recently popularized ketogenic diet is based on consuming a diet that is very low in carbohydrates and high in fat so that you begin to produce mostly ketones and limited glucose[13]

One of the benefits of ketones is that they have a satiating effect due to their influence on two hormones: cholecystokinin and ghrelin. Ghrelin is known as your hunger hormone, as it stimulates your desire to eat. Research shows that ketones suppress this hormone, and therefore also reduce perceived hunger[14]

Cholecystokinin is a hormone that makes you feel full. When you have ketones in your blood, it helps your body sustain levels of cholecystokinin and therefore increases feelings of satiety and fullness[15]

Weight Loss

With the impact that MCTs have on your metabolic rate, hunger levels, exercise performance, and blood sugar, it should come as no surprise that they also can play a vital role in your weight loss regimen. 

As opposed to being the primary benefit of MCTs, weight loss often comes as a happy side effect. Long term clinical trials show that MCTs result in less body fat accumulation over time, likely due to a number of the mechanisms described in this article[16].

Takeaway

MCTs can make an excellent addition to your supplement protocol if your focus is on maintaining a healthy metabolism and body weight. Your metabolic health plays a key role in the prevention of some of the most pervasive diseases in the U.S., including cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes. 

While MCTs alone won't be a cure for these conditions, including them in a lifestyle plan that also incorporates plenty of high-quality foods along with exercise will certainly provide a leg-up.

You can add MCTs to your morning coffee or tea, mix them into water, or even add them to soups or oatmeal -- whatever works for you. 

Try NativePath MCT Powder here! 

References:

  1. Takeuchi, Hiroyuki, et al. "The application of medium-chain fatty acids: edible oil with a suppressing effect on body fat accumulation." Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition 17 (2008).
  2. Aguilar, Maria, et al. "Prevalence of the metabolic syndrome in the United States, 2003-2012." Jama 313.19 (2015): 1973-1974.
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/metabolic-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20351916#:~:text=Metabolic%20syndrome%20is%20a%20cluster,abnormal%20cholesterol%20or%20triglyceride%20levels
  4. Eckel, Robert H., et al. "Dietary substitution of medium-chain triglycerides improves insulin-mediated glucose metabolism in NIDDM subjects." Diabetes 41.5 (1992): 641-647.
  5. Deng, Bin, et al. "Effects of medium chain triglyceride on insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes mellitus." Chinese Journal of Clinical Nutrition 17.3 (2009): 148-152.
  6. Geng, Shanshan, et al. "Medium-chain triglyceride ameliorates insulin resistance and inflammation in high fat diet-induced obese mice." European journal of nutrition 55.3 (2016): 931-940.
  7. St-Onge, M. P., and P. J. H. Jones. "Greater rise in fat oxidation with medium-chain triglyceride consumption relative to long-chain triglyceride is associated with lower initial body weight and greater loss of subcutaneous adipose tissue." International journal of obesity 27.12 (2003): 1565-1571.
  8. St-Onge, Marie-Pierre, and Peter JH Jones. "Physiological effects of medium-chain triglycerides: potential agents in the prevention of obesity." The Journal of nutrition 132.3 (2002): 329-332.
  9. Wang, Ying, et al. "Medium chain triglycerides enhances exercise endurance through the increased mitochondrial biogenesis and metabolism." PloS one 13.2 (2018): e0191182.
  10. Dulloo, A. G., et al. "Twenty-four-hour energy expenditure and urinary catecholamines of humans consuming low-to-moderate amounts of medium-chain triglycerides: a dose-response study in a human respiratory chamber." European journal of clinical nutrition 50.3 (1996): 152.
  11. Nosaka, Naohisa, et al. "Effect of ingestion of medium-chain triacylglycerols on moderate-and high-intensity exercise in recreational athletes." Journal of nutritional science and vitaminology 55.2 (2009): 120-125.
  12. Li, Huizi, et al. "Medium-chain fatty acids decrease serum cholesterol via reduction of intestinal bile acid reabsorption in C57BL/6J mice." Nutrition & metabolism 15.1 (2018): 1-12.
  13. d C Harvey, Cliff J., et al. "The effect of medium chain triglycerides on time to nutritional ketosis and symptoms of keto-induction in healthy adults: a randomised controlled clinical trial." Journal of nutrition and metabolism 2018 (2018).
  14. Stubbs, Brianna J., et al. "A ketone ester drink lowers human ghrelin and appetite." Obesity 26.2 (2018): 269-273.
  15. Chearskul, Supornpim, et al. "Effect of weight loss and ketosis on postprandial cholecystokinin and free fatty acid concentrations." The American journal of clinical nutrition 87.5 (2008): 1238-1246.
  16. Takeuchi, Hiroyuki, et al. "The application of medium-chain fatty acids: edible oil with a suppressing effect on body fat accumulation." Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition 17 (2008).
  17. St-Onge, Marie-Pierre, et al. "Consumption of a functional oil rich in phytosterols and medium-chain triglyceride oil improves plasma lipid profiles in men." The Journal of nutrition 133.6 (2003): 1815-1820.

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