How MCT oil supports brain health and improves memory
MCT oil, derived from coconut oil, is an important dietary staple for indigenous peoples in tropical climates. And, for health enthusiasts, this wholesome traditional oil features heart-healthy, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
In fact, researchers are excited about MCT oil because clinical studies support its potential for treating neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease plus many other forms of dementia.
The unique structure of MCT oil allows for superior absorption
While coconut oil is composed of 60 to 65 percent lauric acid (a beneficial MCT), MCT oil far outdoes its less-concentrated cousin in medium-chain triglyceride content.
Analysis has shown that it can contain up to 18 times more of these important fatty acids. However, where coconut oil features lauric acid, MCT oil is composed of a pair of MCTs known as capric and caprylic acids.
MCT oil owes its healthful properties to the arrangement of their carbon atoms. Unlike “short-chain” fatty acids – which have two to four carbon atoms in every molecule – and “long-chain” fatty acids, which have more than a dozen, MCTs contain a chain of six to ten carbon atoms.
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And, when it comes to the body’s needs, this size – somewhat like the third bed discovered by Goldilocks – seems to be “just right.”
The upshot is that MCTs are readily absorbed and metabolized – requiring neither bile salts for digestion, nor extra energy for absorption or storage. This makes them an ideal nutrient for those with digestive issues.
Not only are MCTs easy to digest, but the body burns them for fuel rather than storing them as fat.
MCTs have been shown to decrease fat and increase lean muscle mass, and MCT oil is currently sold to promote weight loss and improve athletic performance and endurance. MCTs are also routinely administered to prevent muscle wasting in critically ill patients.
Let’s take a closer look at the mechanisms by which MCTs benefit brain health and improve memory.
MCTS are a good source of brain-boosting ketones
Ordinarily, your brain needs blood sugar for energy. But, in a “pinch,” – if blood sugar is low – the liver can break down stored body fat to produce ketones, thereby providing energy to the brain.
Eating a high-fat, low carbohydrate (ketogenic) diet is one way to provide ketones.
Another way is by ingesting MCT oil – or coconut oil, for that matter. This causes blood levels of ketones to rise automatically – providing a sort of “ketogenic short cut.”
Researchers report that MCTs can delay brain aging and even repair brain cell damage – raising hopes that they can protect against Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury. In addition, caprylic acid – a major constituent of MCT oil, has shown promise in treating autism.
MCT oil – a true “brain food” – is essential in the production of neurotransmitters
MCTs, which are also found in human breast milk, are vital to the development of babies’ brains – and have been used as a food source for premature infants.
MCTs play an important role in the production of neurotransmitters (the brain’s chemical messengers), with researchers reporting that they are responsible for 50 percent of dopamine and 90 percent of serotonin.
And, these indispensable fatty acids have been shown to increase brain energy – by close to 10 percent.
Let’s take a look at specific effects against Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related cognitive impairments.
MCTs helps to prevent cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease, which some doctors characterize as a sort of “diabetes of the brain,” causes a decrease in the brain’s ability to use glucose, leading to brain cell death.
But – as we have seen – ketone bodies can serve as a helpful alternative energy source, and researchers are now beginning to explore the use of ketogenic diets for patients with dementia.
In an influential study published in Journal of Neurobiology of Aging, researchers found that an oral dose of MCTs improved cognitive functioning in older adults with age-related cognitive decline (a state of mild mental decline that occurs before dementia).
20 participants consumed a drink containing either emulsified MCTs or a placebo. And the team found that participants treated with MCTs experienced significant improvement in memory recall, within 90 minutes of the first dose.
The scientists noted significant increases in levels of beta-hydroxybutyrate, a ketone – and reported that MCT-derived higher ketone values were associated with greater improvement in paragraph recall.
Note: animal research supports MCT oil’s ability to ward off dementia in canines, as well. So, if you would like to protect your family pets from dementia – consult an experienced holistic veterinarian about the possibility of using MCTs.
How should I take MCT oil to protect against neurodegenerative diseases?
While MCT oil is higher in MCTs, coconut oil has the advantage of containing other nutrients, such as lauric acid. For this reason, natural health experts often advise taking MCT oil and coconut oil together.
MCT oil is available as a liquid and a powder supplement, and can be mixed into your favorite beverages, soups, stews and salad dressings. But, remember, due to its low ‘smoke point,’ you can’t cook with it.
Some experts advise taking MCT oil in “bulletproof” coffee – high-quality coffee to which MCT oil and grass-fed butter have been added. Sprinkle in cinnamon, powdered vanilla or chocolate to amp up antioxidant benefits even further!
Most natural health experts advise 5 to 10 grams of medium-chain triglycerides a day, a level that can be obtained through a daily teaspoon or two of MCT oil.
For neurological conditions, recommended dosages might be higher – and typically range from 4 to 6 tablespoons of coconut oil and MCT oil together. Again, as always, talk to a trusted, integrative healthcare provider before supplementing.
By the way, MCTs also exist naturally in foods such as palm oil, cheese and grass-fed butter.
MCTs and MCT oil offer a wealth of health benefits – including natural weight loss, heart health, better mood and energy, enhanced nutrient absorption, improved intestinal flora and protection against infection.
But the most impressive feature of these healthy fats just might be their ability to sharpen memory, improve brain health and combat the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Sources for this article include:
Food & Nutrition
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