What Are the Benefits of MCT oil? Uses and More

Medically Reviewed By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD
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Medium-chain triglyceride oil, or MCT oil, is a dietary supplement derived from coconut oil. It consists of short-chain fats and is easily digestible. MCT oil may help improve some aspects of health in certain populations, such as cognitive function, but we need more research.

This article will expand on the benefits and uses of MCT oil. It will also explain the side effects of MCT oil.

What is MCT oil? 

bottle of oil and coconuts
Rimma_Bondarenko/Getty Images

MCT oil is a common dietary supplement among athletes and other physically active people. 

It can be easier to understand by breaking its name down into two parts:

  • Triglyceride: This is a type of fat in your bloodstream. It comes from unused calories and can provide your body with energy.
  • Medium-chain: Triglycerides consist of chains of fats. Medium chain means a triglyceride has a short length.

The peculiar nature of MCT means it breaks down easily in the body. 

Where does it come from?

The main sources of MCT oil are coconut and palm kernel oils. More than 50% of the fat in coconut and palm kernel oils is MCT. Producers of MCT oil use fractionation to get MCT oil. 

Fractionation is a separation process that uses gradient differences to divide mixtures into smaller quantities.

Other sources of MCT include:

  • cow’s milk
  • goat’s milk
  • coconut meat 
  • yogurt
  • butter
  • cheese

Some people who follow the ketogenic diet use MCT oil, but it is not a necessary component. The ketogenic diet is a low carb, high fat diet that aims to help your body use a different type of fuel than glucose.

Read more about the ketogenic diet.

How does MCT oil affect the body?

MCT oil is easy to digest because it has smaller molecules than in many commonly consumed fats. They travel directly to your liver and absorb easily into your bloodstream. They also turn into readily available forms of energy.

This behavior contrasts with that of long-chain triglycerides, which are common in fats such as olive oil or avocado. These have long chains and are hard to digest because of this.

What are the benefits of MCT oil?

Although further research is necessary, MCT oil could have several benefits, including providing energy.

MCT oil travels quickly to the liver and does not require bile to break down. This makes it easily absorbable and quick to turn into usable energy.

Other potential benefits of MCT oil include:

  • helping manage conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and autism
  • suppressing the growth of infectious fungus with its antimicrobial and antifungal effects
  • being a good source of energy
  • optimizing the growth of good bacteria and contributing to gut health

What is the effect of MCT oil on medical conditions?

Several studies examined the effects of MCT on medical conditions:

Alzheimer’s disease

Researchers found that increasing ketone access to the brain through nutritional ketosis can improve some symptoms of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

People can reach nutritional ketosis by eating a high fat ketogenic diet with 20­–70 grams of MCT supplement.

A small 2022 study involving 20 people with Alzheimer’s disease also showed that taking a small dose of fewer than 2 tablespoons of MCT oil a day improved their cognitive skills, or they stayed the same without decline.

A 2020 research review showed that taking an MCT supplement improved cognition in people with cognitive impairment from Alzheimer’s disease. However, we need further research to understand how MCT oil effects cognition in those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Read more about Alzheimer’s disease.

Autism

One small 2018 study with autistic children shared that, when combined with a ketogenic diet, MCT could potentially have beneficial effects on autism in children.

The researchers used a low carb, high fat, gluten-free, ketogenic diet supplemented with MCT oil. The 15 children in the study who followed the diet for 3 months experienced improvements in core autism features.

We need more research, however, as autism can affect people in various ways. Speak with your doctor before making any changes to your diet or your child’s.

Read more about autism.

Epilepsy

Your body can convert MCTs into ketones, which are chemicals that break down fats from your liver. The ketogenic diet, although popular with those wanting to lose weight through the production of ketones in the body, may help with managing epilepsy.

Increasing ketone production, such as that of the ketogenic diet or intake of MCT oil, may help with frequent epilepsy seizures.

Read more about epilepsy.

What are the side effects of MCT oil? 

MCT oil is generally safe but could cause gastrointestinal side effects, such as stomach aches and nausea. Some people may also not like the taste or texture.

Potential MCT oil side effects include

Try to eat all supplements in moderation, and consult your doctor before making any drastic dietary changes.

What are ways to use MCT oil?

You can use MCT oil in a similar manner as other oils.

You can mix it into your soups and salad dressings. You can add it to your smoothies, coffees, protein shakes, and other drinks.

The quantity to use will depend on the benefits you are looking for and how your body responds to it.

However, try not to use more than a few tablespoons per day, as this may cause gastrointestinal side effects.

Summary

Medium-chain triglyceride oil, or MCT oil, is a popular dietary supplement. It comprises short-chain fats and is, therefore, easily digestible.

Health benefits can include improved blood sugar levels and better weight management.

You can get MCT oil from coconut oil or palm kernel oil. You can also get it from butter, cow’s milk, and other dairy products.

MCT oil is generally safe, but it can have some side effects if you eat too much of it. The side effects include fatty buildup in the liver, abdominal pain, and bloating. 

Talk with your doctor before adding MCT oil or other new supplements to your diet or your child’s.

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Medical Reviewer: Jillian Kubala, MS, RD
Last Review Date: 2022 Oct 5
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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