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Preliminary evidence suggests that MCTs are a useful fat substitute for those who have difficulty digesting fat. This makes MCTs potentially helpful for people with AIDS , who need to find a way to gain weight but cannot digest fat easily. 1 MCTs might theoretically be helpful for those who have trouble digesting fatty foods because they lack the proper enzymes (pancreatic insufficiency), but taking digestive enzymes appears to be more effective. 2 Although this may sound paradoxical given the above, some evidence suggests that MCT consumption might also enhance the body's natural tendency to burn fat. 3 On this basis, the supplement has been proposed as a weight loss aid. Unfortunately, the results of studies have generally failed to find any weight loss benefits. 4 Some studies have, however, found that use of MCTs might produce improvements in body composition (ratio of fat to lean tissue). 5 A related supplement called structured medium- and long-chain triacylglycerols (SMLCT) has been created to provide the same potential benefits as MCTs, but in a form that can be used as cooking oil. In a preliminary double-blind trial, SMLCT has also shown some promise for enhancing body composition. 6 Athletes often sip carbohydrate-loaded drinks during exercise. MCTs may provide an alternative. Like other fats, they provide more energy per ounce than carbohydrates; but unlike normal fats, this energy can be released rapidly. 7 A number of double-blind trials using MCTs for improving high-intensity or endurance exercise performance have been conducted, but the results have been thoroughly inconsistent. 8 9 10 11 12 13 This is not surprising, as none of these studies enrolled enough participants to provide trustworthy results.
One placebo-controlled study found hints that use of MCTs by people with type 2 diabetes might improve insulin sensitivity and aid weight loss. 14 Larger studies are necessary to discover whether MCTs are really as useful for athletes as the supplement’s proponents claim.
- Craig GB, Darnell BE, Weinsier RL, Saag MS, Epps L, Mullins L, Lapidus WI, Ennis DM, Akrabawi SS, Cornwell PE, Sauberlich HE. Decreased fat and nitrogen losses in patients with AIDS receiving medium-chain-triglyceride-enriched formula vs those receiving long-chain-triglyceride-containing formula. J Am Diet Assoc. 97(6):605-11.
- Caliari S, Benini L, Sembenini C, Gregori B, Carnielli V, Vantini I. Medium-chain triglyceride absorption in patients with pancreatic insufficiency. Scand J Gastroenterol. 31(1):90-4.
- Seaton TB, Welle SL, Warenko MK, Campbell RG. Thermic effect of medium-chain and long-chain triglycerides in man. Am J Clin Nutr. 44(5):630-4.
- Krotkiewski M. Value of VLCD supplementation with medium chain triglycerides. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 25(9):1393-400.
- Tsuji H, Kasai M, Takeuchi H, Nakamura M, Okazaki M, Kondo K. Dietary medium-chain triacylglycerols suppress accumulation of body fat in a double-blind, controlled trial in healthy men and women. J Nutr. 131(11):2853-9.
- Matsuo T, Matsuo M, Kasai M, Takeuchi H. Effects of a liquid diet supplement containing structured medium- and long-chain triacylglycerols on bodyfat accumulation in healthy young subjects. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 10(1):46-50.
- Bach AC, Babayan VK. Medium-chain triglycerides: an update. Am J Clin Nutr. 36(5):950-62.
- Anderson O. Putting medium-chain triglycerides in your sports drink can increase your endurance. Nutr Sci News. 1994;6:6-7.
- Jeukendrup AE, Saris WHM, Schrauwen P, et al. Oxidation of orally ingested medium chain triglyceride (MCT) during prolonged exercise [abstract]. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1995;27(suppl 5):S101.
- Jeukendrup AE, Thielen JJ, Wagenmakers AJ, Brouns F, Saris WH. Effect of medium-chain triacylglycerol and carbohydrate ingestion during exercise on substrate utilization and subsequent cycling performance. Am J Clin Nutr. 67(3):397-404.
- Misell LM, Lagomarcino ND, Schuster V, Kern M. Chronic medium-chain triacylglycerol consumption and endurance performance in trained runners. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 41(2):210-5.
- Satabin P, Portero P, Defer G, Bricout J, Guezennec CY. Metabolic and hormonal responses to lipid and carbohydrate diets during exercise in man. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 19(3):218-23.
- Van Zyl CG, Lambert EV, Hawley JA, Noakes TD, Dennis SC. Effects of medium-chain triglyceride ingestion on fuel metabolism and cycling performance. J Appl Physiol. 80(6):2217-25.
- Han JR, Deng B, Sun J, Chen CG, Corkey BE, Kirkland JL, Ma J, Guo W. Effects of dietary medium-chain triglyceride on weight loss and insulin sensitivity in a group of moderately overweight free-living type 2 diabetic Chinese subjects. Metabolism. 56(7):985-91.