by Miguel Gonzalez, MD, FACP, FCCP…….
Medium Chain Triglycerides, or MCTs, are a form of fat found in abundance in breast milk and coconut oil. They are an important source of ketone bodies. Ketone bodies are a high premium fuel which can be directly utilized by the brain and converted to life giving energy. No sugars required!!
Researchers discovered that our bodies process the MCTs just as they would if they were if they were carbohydrates, not fats. They directly enter the bloodstream and are delivered to the body and brain. Normally, the typical fats such as long chain triglycerides have to be combined with bile in the digestive tract to be metabolized. They then are loaded onto chylomicrons for delivery to the liver. However, the MCT’s bypass the bile, chylomicrons, and liver and become immediately available. They are then transported directly to the brain and body.
Scientific studies also indicate that MCT’s are preferred over carbohydrates as a source of energy for the brain that is affected by diabetes or Alzheimer’s. In diabetes and Alzheimer’s, the nervous cells lose the ability to use glucose because insulin resistance occurs in the brain, identical to the same manner other cells of the body are affected by diabetes. Alzheimer’s is nowadays considered “the diabetes of the brain” because of this mechanism. As a result, the brain cells start to die slowly, many years before the disease has caused enough symptoms to be diagnosed. If, however, these brain cells would have MCT’s available, they would likely maintain their function and integrity. Other neurological and degenerative conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) can also benefit from MCT’s.
Besides diabetes and brain disorders, MCTs are also used to improve food absorption diseases like diarrhea, mal-digestion of fats (a condition called steatorrhea), celiac disease and cystic fibrosis as well as certain conditions affecting the liver, gallbladder and digestive tract. MCT’s have been used after surgeries that led to the partial removal of the stomach or intestines.
Professional athletes sometimes use supplementation with MCTs to reduce body fat and enhance lean muscle.
In hospital settings, MCT’s can be used intravenously for those patients with severe diseases affecting the gastrointestinal tract who can’t tolerate other kinds of fats or to prevent muscle breakdown. MCT’s also appear to improve the absorption of certain essential minerals, particularly calcium and magnesium.
MCTs have an excellent safety profile when taken orally (for example, using coconut oil as a component of your daily diet) or when given intravenously. In some instances, it may cause digestive complaints like diarrhea, intestinal gas or stomach discomfort. These side reactions can be reduced by taking the MCT’s with food. MCTs should be used cautiously and under medical supervision throughout pregnancy or in cases of diabetes or liver diseases.
Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) are found in coconut oil and are also available in supplement form, sometimes labeled using their alternative names: 1,2,3-Propanetriol Trioctanoate, AC-1202, Capric Acid, Caproic Acid. For parenteral nutrition in hospitalized patients, MCT’s are usually combined with long chain triglycerides. For brain support, MCTs from coconut oil could be used in combination with omega 3 fatty acids found in fish or krill oil, in addition to other vitamins and minerals.