Optimizing Brain Health with MCT Oil

Image of a bowl of MCT oilIf you’ve been on the Internet lately, you’ve likely heard of MCT oil. It seems to be one of the top buzz-worthy food supplements on the market today, making an appearance in coffee, smoothies, and even on sushi – but is it worth the hype?

MCT stands for “medium chain triglyceride”, the word “triglyceride” referring to a specific type of fat. Triglycerides can be found both in food sources, and the human body. Medium chain triglycerides are simply a certain length of these fatty acids that are bound with between 6 – 12 carbon atoms. The amount of carbon atoms that the fatty acid is bound with determines how it is metabolized when we consume it. Longer chains are digested slower, as they require bile to break them down within the digestive system. Medium chains are considered to be easier to digest, as they are metabolized in the liver and very quickly used for energy. MCT oil is simply a concentrated oil that is refined to contain only these medium lengths of fatty acids – usually derived from coconut or palm, which are naturally high in these types of fats. Each length of fatty acid will have slightly different properties when we eat them, so understanding how they work in the body is essential.

When we consume MCT oil, it is quickly transported to the liver for quick metabolism, where it is converted directly to energy. MCT oil has a number of benefits including weight loss, as it increases thermogenesis (temporarily speeds the metabolism), suppresses appetite, and increases energy, but cannot get stored as body fat. Even more remarkably, though, are its benefits for brain health.

MCTs are converted to something called ketones – an efficient alternate fuel source for the body. We can create ketones in our body by restricting our carbohydrate intake to 20 – 30g a day, where our body becomes depleted of glycogen (stored glucose) and uses dietary and stored body fat to produce ketones as an alternate source of energy. This is known as a Ketogenic diet. As an effective alternative, we can incorporate MCT oil into our daily routine to get the benefits of ketones without having to follow a strict diet. Ketones are rapidly converted into energy. On a cellular level, they are more efficient at producing ATP – cellular energy – in the mitochondria, and reduce the production of free radicals. This is important for brain health, as free radicals are unstable and destructive, and increase the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases. Higher levels of ketones are beneficial for prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and Alzheimer’s. There is also emerging research supporting ketones playing a role in improving mental health disorders, such as ADHD, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

MCT oil also helps provide balance to the digestive system, which helps optimize brain function. One specific MCT called Caprylic acid helps manage Candida Albicans, a strain of yeast that is commonly associated with candidiasis, or candida overgrowth. Candidiasis often results in depression, brain fog, and mood swings, so it is beneficial to control the growth of this parasitic yeast to improve memory, mental clarity, and mood stability. MCT oil helps balance gut bacteria, and is protective against pathogenic bacteria and viruses – this means a healthier microflora. Since 90% of our serotonin is produced in our gut, this means a healthier, happier brain, and has the potential to reduce depression, mood fluctuations, and anxiety. MCT has also been suggested to increase GABA, which helps the brain cope with stress and reduce anxiety, and is a precursor to dopamine.

MCT oil can be used similarly to other delicate plant-based oils, but be sure not to heat it. Try it in smoothies, salad dressings, or a bulletproof coffee! To make a bulletproof coffee, brew a cup of your favourite organic, fair trade coffee, add a tablespoon of unsalted grass fed butter, and a tablespoon of MCT oil. Throw it in your blender on high speed for 30 seconds, and voila! A frothy, creamy, brain-boosting brew. I promise, you’ll never go back to your usual cream and sugar!

 

Kayla MacDonald, R.H.N.

Originally Published: March 2018 in “50+ Living” in the Comox Valley Record for Edible Island Whole Foods Market