MCT Oil: Is It Worth Trying?

open tincture bottle, dropper filled with liquid, on yellow background

Svitlana Romadina

Although Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil is not new in and of itself, it has recently become trendy thanks to the growing popularity of at-home supplement use, the keto diet, and of course, social media. But does it live up to all the hype?

When it comes to MCT oil, the research is generally new and weak. However, there may be potential benefits in specific populations, including Alzheimer's and epilepsy. There are alternative ways to reap the potential benefits of MCTs from easy and delicious dietary sources, such as yogurt, milk, and coconut oil.

That said, it's important to note that MCT oil is a type of saturated fat and may in fact cause elevated triglyceride levels and potentially increase the risk of heart disease.

What is MCT oil?

MCT oil is commonly used to increase energy and promote fat loss. It is made up of easily digested fatty acids. These fatty acids vary in carbon length are processed differently than other dietary fats. They are absorbed directly from the digestive system into the liver, where they become ketones, or the fuel produced by the body when it converts fat into usable energy.

MCT oil is found naturally in dairy products such as milk and butter, as well as palm kernel oil.

MCTs are found in their heaviest concentration in coconut oil, where nearly half of the fat content comes from MCTs. Due to this, you’ll often see coconut oil used interchangeably or in place of MCT oil in supplements. 

Since medium-chain triglycerides are converted directly into ketones, MCT oil is a very common supplement taken by people following the keto diet, which is a very low carbohydrate diet designed to force your body to burn fat instead of glucose for energy.

MCT oil is also a popular supplement in the athletic community due to the potential quick, high-quality fuel that ketones offer. It's important to note that many of the studies supporting MCT oil in athletic use are conducted on mice, not humans.

Potential Benefits of MCT Oil

MCT oil is associated with many potential health claims, which may or may not be backed by scientific evidence. The claims typically include the promotion of weight loss, improving athletic performance, helping to treat epilepsy and Alzheimer’s, and managing blood sugar levels for those with type 2 diabetes. 

Inconclusive Evidence to Support Weight Loss

In terms of weight loss, one study confirmed, “It has been shown that MCT plays a role in lowering weight, and decreasing metabolic syndrome, abdominal obesity, and inflammation.” However, this study was conducted on mice and looked at MCT intake in a natural diet, not MCT oil in a supplemental form.

Another study did look at MCT oil in supplement form. It compared weight loss using MCT oil with weight loss promoted by olive oil. This study concluded that MCT oil tends to be more effective, and also that there was no adverse effect on metabolism. While these studies may seem promising, they are not conclusive, and research is still very limited.

Inconclusive Evidence to Support Use for Alzheimer's

Regarding Alzheimer’s, research into using MCT oil as a treatment is also very preliminary, although it is thought to help. One paper on its usage explains, “Most are small preliminary studies [of MCT oil treating Alzheimer’s] that have generally demonstrated modest cognitive benefit and investigated potential effects on additional biomarkers of brain metabolism.”

Inconclusive Evidence to Support Use for Type 2 Diabetes

While studies have not shown adverse effects, more research is necessary to denote a positive correlation between using MCT oil and managing blood sugar levels.

May Support a Ketogenic Diet for Epilepsy

MCT oil is widely used in the dietary treatment of epilepsy. It is used as part of the high-fat, low-carb, ketogenic diet to induce ketosis in epileptic patients, which may provide relief from seizures. While the use of the ketogenic diet is supported by evidence as a treatment for epilepsy, the specific use of MCT oil is not as well studied.

While one study showed that using MCT oil might help control seizures and may be more tolerable than a pure ketogenic diet, this study only looked at one test subject and therefore MCT oil cannot be relied on as a widespread treatment.

Potential Drawbacks of MCT Oil

One of the largest drawbacks of MCT oil is that it may quite simply provide no benefits. It may be an expensive supplement to invest in, with little or no return. Here are some other potential drawbacks:

Not Proven to Enhance Athletic Performance

Its so-called ability to enhance athletic performance has not been proven by any studies. Even studies that do suggest measurable benefits have not yet been reviewed and conducted enough times to provide conclusive evidence.

Consumption May Lead to Elevated Triglyceride Levels

There are also studies that suggest negative effects of MCT oil; one states that consumption can lead to elevated triglycerides, which are a type of lipids (fat) found in the blood. High levels of lipids can increase risk of heart disease.

May Cause Upset Stomach

MCT oil can also cause an upset stomach, leading to gastrointestinal distress like diarrhea, vomiting, bloating, and cramping. Taking it on an empty stomach is more likely to cause these issues, so if you’re taking a supplement, pair it with a meal.

Lack of Regulation

One of the best resources for information on dietary supplements is the NIH's Office of Dietary Supplements fact sheets. As of now, there is still no fact sheet on MCT oil to better evaluate the potential benefits and drawbacks of this supplement. Dietary supplements are minimally regulated by the FDA, so there is no guarantee of the quality of MCT oil supplements unless they are tested by a reliable third-party organization such as NSF, USP, or ConsumerLab. 

How to Add MCTs into Your Diet Naturally

If you’re interested in upping your MCT intake, you can do so without a supplement.

Medium-chain triglycerides are naturally found in:

Consider eating any of these products to get your MCT fix instead of adding another supplement to your routine.

Coconut oil, which has grown popular as a health food, can be used in place of other cooking oil when searing or sautéeing (although beware that it has a lower smoke point than others). It is also a delicious addition to baked goods, popcorn, or smoothies for extra healthy fats and coconut flavor.

A Word From Verywell

At Verywell Fit, we aim to provide the facts behind the fads, especially when it comes to products that are popular but may not be entirely rooted in science. When it comes to supplements, including items like MCT oil, be a cautious consumer.

While there are some purported health benefits of MCT oil supplements for specific populations, the science is limited. Instead of reaching for a product that may not provide everything the label claims, we suggest looking to adequate fiber and hydration, balanced nutrition, good sleep hygiene, daily movement, and other positive lifestyle factors to ensure you feel your best.

If you do choose to supplement your diet with MCT oil, speak with a healthcare professional and registered dietitian nutritionist to decide which product and dosage is best for you.

10 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Meredith Hirt
Meredith is a writer and brand strategist with expertise in trends forecasting and pop culture. In addition to writing for Verywell Fit, Playbook, and Forbes Advisor, she consults with trend agencies to use data-driven storytelling and actionable insights to help brands solve problems and engage consumers.