Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil is a refined product extracted from coconut or palm kernel oil.

Science-backed MCT Oil Benefits, According to Dietitians
Science-Backed MCT Oil Benefits - Image/Shutterstock

It is also naturally present in small amounts in dairy products, such as butter and cheese.

MCT oil contains medium-length chains of fats called triglycerides, which are more easily digested and processed by the body than the longer-chain fatty acids more commonly present in foods.

This oil supplement has gained popularity among health and fitness enthusiasts due to its unique properties and potential health benefits.

Upon ingestion, MCTs journey straight to the liver, where they can be immediately utilized for energy production or transformed into ketones—byproducts formed in the liver when substantial fat breakdown occurs.

In essence, MCTs, with their ability to be easily absorbed into the bloodstream and used as immediate energy or converted into brain-nourishing ketones, may provide a unique and beneficial fuel source, especially for those on a ketogenic diet.

In this article, we will explore some of the science-backed advantages of incorporating MCT oil into your diet, as well as potential drawbacks and ways to use MCT oil.

MCT oil may support weight management

MCT oil may play a supportive role in weight management through various mechanisms.

Reduced calorie intake

Despite being a high-calorie food, it could help reduce overall calorie intake as it provides a sense of satiety, potentially leading to a decreased consumption of surplus calories.

While MCT oil is believed to prolong feelings of fullness, it’s important to note that it may also prompt the release of hunger hormones in some individuals.

Maintaining ketosis

For those adhering to a ketogenic diet, it can support maintaining ketosis—a metabolic state where the body burns fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates, subsequently promoting weight loss.

Blood sugar control

Coconut oil, which is high in MCTs, may also have a small positive effect on blood sugar levels.

Managing blood sugar is crucial to mitigating cravings, stabilizing energy levels, and supporting overall weight management.

However, studies have shown mixed results, with some indication of an increase in insulin resistance, thereby negatively affecting blood sugar control.

Mixed Results

Due to the mixed results in research on MCTs’ effects on blood sugar and calorie intake, MCT oil may not consistently aid weight loss.

Cara Harbstreet, a registered dietitian and owner of Street Smart Nutrition, agrees that MCT oil can positively and negatively impact weight management.

“Consuming MCT oil in the morning or with breakfast has been shown to reduce appetite in some trials. This feeling of fullness could lead to eating less at subsequent meals. But, ironically, because MCT oil is not a low-calorie food, it could also have the opposite effect and lead to weight gain if consumed in large amounts.”

MCTs may support weight management through reduced calorie intake and blood sugar control, but study results are mixed, with some indications of increased hunger hormones and insulin resistance. Further research is needed to confirm its effectiveness.

MCT oil may promote gut health

MCTs may also have a beneficial impact on gut health.

Dietary MCTs have been found to enhance metabolic health by improving the intestinal ecosystem and permeability.

They possess antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that could help combat harmful bacteria in the gut and promote a healthy balance of good bacteria.

Moreover, MCTs are thought to provide nourishment for the cells lining the colon, protecting against inflammation and potential damage.

Harbstreet explains, “There are several in-vitro or animal studies suggesting the MCTs found in virgin coconut oil can reduce the growth of certain types of bacteria, particularly in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. However, more research is needed as those findings haven’t been replicated in high-quality human trials.”

Diets enriched with MCT could help manage metabolic diseases by altering the gut microbiota and supporting the health of intestinal cells. Still, more research on humans is needed to confirm this potential benefit.

MCT oil may support brain health and function

MCT oil has also been linked to potential cognitive benefits, especially in individuals with conditions affecting brain function, such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

AD is a relentless form of neurodegenerative disease that presents a significant challenge due to its lack of effective therapies.

One of the key characteristics of Alzheimer’s is its association with diminished cerebral glucose metabolism, the brain’s primary energy source.

However, ketones, produced from MCTs, provide an alternative fuel for the brain.

A small study published in 2022 suggests that regular intake of MCT oil could help stabilize cognitive functions in Alzheimer’s patients, particularly those in the early to middle stages of the disease.

A more recent 2023 meta-analysis concluded that MCT treatment saw some success in enhancing overall cognitive functions among patients with mild cognitive impairment and AD. However, we need more extensive and well-structured clinical studies to understand this connection better.

MCT oil could potentially support brain health and function in individuals with cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. However, more research is needed to confirm its effectiveness and potential therapeutic benefits.

MCT oil fatty acids combat yeast and bacterial growth

MCT oil, rich in caprylic, capric, and lauric acid, exhibits strong antimicrobial and antifungal properties.

Research suggests MCTs also display anti-inflammatory effects, potentially aiding in these outcomes.

Notably, coconut oil, a significant source of MCTs, has been indicated in some older and newer research to inhibit the growth of Candida albicans, a yeast responsible for various infections.

It may also reduce the proliferation of the disease-causing bacteria Clostridium difficile, according to a test-tube study.

Another test-tube study revealed that virgin coconut oil could slow the growth of Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria causing serious skin infections and other conditions.

Despite these promising findings, more thorough human research is needed to understand the benefits of MCT oil’s antimicrobial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Additionally, according to Harbstreet, while there is some evidence showing that MCTs can reduce inflammation, different types of MCTs may have varied effects.

She proposes that options like omega-3 supplements may be more effective in addressing inflammation than MCT oil.

MCTs, particularly those found in coconut oil, display potent antimicrobial properties that may combat the growth of bacteria and yeast responsible for various infections. However, more human studies are needed to confirm these effects.

Potential drawbacks and side effects of MCT oil

While MCT oil is typically safe for consumption by healthy adults when taken in moderation, the key phrase here is “in moderation.”

Excessive intake might increase liver fat and cause gastrointestinal discomfort, including symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach cramps.

Even in moderation, MCT oil has other potential drawbacks and side effects, including:

  • May cause weight gain due to its high calorie content
  • May induce hunger hormones in some individuals
  • May elevate blood lipids linked to heart disease

Therefore, it’s crucial to consume MCT oil in small amounts and consult a healthcare provider before adding it to your diet, especially if you have pre-existing conditions or are on any medication.

How to use MCT oil?

MCT oil can be added to your diet in various ways, such as:

  • As a salad dressing ingredient
  • In smoothies or protein shakes
  • Blended into coffee or tea for a creamy texture
  • As a substitute for traditional cooking oils and fats in recipes

It is essential to start with small amounts, such as 1 teaspoon per day, and gradually increase the intake over several weeks, up to a maximum of 4 to 7 tablespoons daily, if desired.

Spread intake throughout the day, as consuming too much MCT oil at once can cause digestive discomfort, such as diarrhea and stomach cramps.

To maximize the potential benefits of MCT oil, it is best to incorporate it into a well-balanced and healthy diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods.

Who should not use MCT oil

Those with a heart or liver condition, diabetes, and pregnant or breastfeeding women should not take MCT oil as a supplement.

Furthermore, individuals allergic to coconut oil or palm kernel oil should avoid MCT oil altogether.

Again, as with any dietary supplement, it’s crucial to consult a healthcare provider before adding MCT oil to your diet if you have any health conditions or are on medication.

Additional considerations

Before trying MCT oil, Harbstreet recommends looking at your lifestyle overall, as well as getting a sense of your baseline health markers like fasting blood glucose, blood lipids, and inflammatory markers.

“This can not only alert you if you start to see unexpected changes, but also lets you know if your MCT oil intervention is working for its intended purpose,” she explains.

Harbstreet continues, “While adding supplements can be a catalyst for other health-promoting behaviors, there might be opportunities to start building habits that don’t rely on the addition of MCT oil…for the average person, you might get more benefit from other lifestyle or dietary changes.”

Bottom Line

MCT oil is generally safe in small doses, with potential benefits for weight management, brain function, and gut health, but it’s not a surefire solution for any of these conditions.

Excessive MCT oil intake can lead to unwanted side effects, and those with certain health conditions should avoid it altogether.

“Similar to the claims above, there are other potential benefits linked to MCT oil, but more research is needed to better understand the mechanisms, effective dosages, and which MCTs offer specific benefits for specific populations or disease states,” Harbstreet concludes.

Before incorporating MCT oil into your routine, talk to your doctor or registered dietitian to determine if it’s right for you.

The content presented in this article is intended solely for informational purposes and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Readers should seek advice from a healthcare professional before initiating any dietary modifications, lifestyle changes, or supplement regimens.

Was this article helpful?

11 Sources

We review published medical research in respected scientific journals to arrive at our conclusions about a product or health topic. This ensures the highest standard of scientific accuracy.

[1] A systematic review and meta-analysis of medium-chain triglycerides effects on acute satiety and food intake:
[2] Ghrelin acylation by ingestion of medium-chain fatty acids:
[3] Effects of consumption of coconut oil or coconut on glycemic control and insulin sensitivity:
[4] Gut Microbiota and Metabolic Health: The Potential Beneficial Effects of a Medium Chain Triglyceride Diet in Obese Individuals:
[5] Use of medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil in subjects with Alzheimer's disease:
[6] The Effects of Medium Chain Triglyceride for Alzheimer’s Disease Related Cognitive Impairment: :
[7] MCT-Induced Ketosis and Fiber in Rheumatoid Arthritis (MIKARA)—Study Protocol and Primary Endpoint Results of the Double-Blind Randomized Controlled Intervention Study Indicating Effects on Disease Activity in RA Patients :
[8] Dietary Supplementation with Medium-Chain Triglycerides Reduces Candida Gastrointestinal Colonization in Preterm Infants:
[9] In Vitro Killing of Candida albicans by Fatty Acids and Monoglycerides:
[10] Antimicrobial effects of virgin coconut oil and its medium-chain fatty acids on Clostridium difficile:
[11] Antibacterial and immunomodulator activities of virgin coconut oil (VCO) against Staphylococcus aureus:

Kelsey Costa, MS, RDN

Kelsey Costa is a US-based registered dietitian nutritionist, research communicator, and writer.