What is a Medium Chain Fatty Acid?
Medium chain fatty acids differ from their long and short chain cousins. Medium chain fatty acids range from 7-12 carbon atoms while short chain are 1-6 and long chain are 12-18 carbon atoms. Because of this short chain length, this gives MCT’s quite a few unique properties and gives them an advantage over the more common long chain fatty acids in the typical American Diet. There are 4 main medium chain triglycerides, which are Caproic Acid (C6) , Caprylic Acid (C8), Capric Acid (C10), and Lauric Acid(C12). Lauric acid is primarily found in coconut oil around 50%. The primary MCT’s in most MCT oils is caprylic acid and capric acid.
Medium chain fatty acids actually provide 10% fewer calories per gram than long chain fatty acids at 8.3 calories per gram. The energy enhancing properties of MCT’s are contributed to how they are digested. Contrary to long chain fatty acids which require esterification into triglycerides in enterocytes, incorporated into chylomicrons, and then enter the lymphatic system. SCFA and MCFA can directly enter the portal vein to the liver from the digestive tract. They also require fewer fatty acid binding proteins contrary to the LCFA. LCFA are required to be activated to acyl-CoAs in the cytosol and need to be transferred to the mitochondrial interior via the carnitine shuttle, however, SCFA and MCFA up to carbon chain length 8 permeate the inner mitochondrial membrane and activated to CoA-derivatives in the mitochondrial matrix. These can be directly used as substrate faster and more efficiently than LCFA.
Medium chain fatty acids are rapidly digested compared to LCFA, they do not require a binding protein, and therefore can better serve as energy providing food compared to LCFA. MCFA are also not stored in fat deposits as much as LCFA. They have also been shown to enhance thermogenesis, lower calorie content, and not stored as fat as much as LCFA. MCFA have also been shown to suppress appetite as well. They have also been shown to have a slight hypoglycemic effect which is a blood sugar lowering effect. They also have been shown to improve gut health as well have several antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal effects. Also, heart protective effects have been shown. A recent focus on them has been there use regarding cognitive performance which makes them a very fascinating target of future research.
Possible side effects when first using MCT’s can be some nausea and or gastric discomfort. This can be minimized by starting with a small dose. MCT oil can be used to add to any food or even your morning coffee, however, do not cook with it as it is not a good cooking oil. You can purchase MCT oil at some stores and online or you can use coconut oil which has around 50% lauric acid and less caprylic and capric acid. MCT’s have become very popular lately due to Dave Asprey and Bulletproof coffee, as well as the ketogenic diet. MCT’s can be found in MCT oil, coconut oil, butter (grass fed cows), cheese (grass fed cows), palm oil, whole milk (grass fed cows), (full fat yogurt (grass fed cows). Your best bet will be to go with MCT oil or coconut oil.
I prefer an MCT oil with mainly C8 or caprylic acid and use it daily whether it be in my morning tea, or an evening salad.