How Much MCT Oil Per Day Is Right For Me?

The Scoop on MCT Oil and How To Use It

  • MCT Oil Defined|
  • Who Uses MCT Oil?|
  • MCT Oil Safety|
  • How Much Per Day|
  • How To Find Quality MCT Oil Products|
  • The Skinny on Medium-Chain Fats|

MCT oil is trending on the internet nowadays. If you’re wondering how much MCT oil per day is enough, you’re in the right place.

MCT oil is a blend of medium-chain fatty acids extracted from coconut oil and palm kernel oil. Sold as a dietary supplement, MCT oil has demonstrated that it can help people manage many metabolic and digestive disorders, such as pancreatic insufficiency, fat malabsorption, and issues with fatty acid transport [1]. Other health benefits of MCT oil may include:

  • Reducing blood sugar fluctuations by 45% while eating, but not while fasting [2]
  • Increasing glucose metabolism by 30%, nearly as much as anti-diabetic drugs [3, 4]
  • Reducing insulin resistance moderately, whereas diets high in long-chain fatty acids may increase insulin resistance somewhat [5, 6]
  • Improving cholesterol status
    • Studies show that MCT increased HDL (the “good cholesterol”) by 0.11 mmol/L (a rise in HDL of only 0.025 reduces the associated risk of cardiovascular disease by 2-3%) [7] 
  • Promoting modest fat loss (about a pound over three weeks) and fat burning without negatively impacting cholesterol [8, 9, 10, 11]
  • Improving cognitive function moderately in Alzheimer’s patients [12, 13] and to a larger degree in diabetics and hypoglycemics [14]

Some have suggested MCT oil may improve exercise performance, but the evidence for this claim is lacking [15, 16, 17]

Supplementary MCT oil is best taken in doses of 15 to 20 mL per meal, up to 100 mL per day [18, 19]. It’s not recommended as your only source of dietary fat as MCT oil does not contain all of the essential fatty acids needed for good health. And while MCT oil is generally safe, there are risks and precautions to consider. 

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What Exactly Is MCT Oil?

MCT oil is a concentrate of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), also called medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs). Medium-chain triglycerides are saturated fatty acid chains with 6- to 12-carbon atoms [20, 21]. These fatty acids occur naturally in dairy fats and tropical oils. 

Medium-chain fatty acids are digested more easily than long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) [22], which occur in foods like fish, avocado, nuts, and seeds [23]. Compared to their long-chained cousins, MCFAs don’t need to be broken down by bile or pancreatic lipase [24]. Soon after ingestion, MCFAs go directly from the small intestine to the liver, which makes them available for immediate use by the body [25, 26, 27]. In contrast, LCFAs have to travel through the lymphatic system, which deposits them in muscle or fat cells for later use [28]. These differences in digestion make MCFAs a more readily available energy source than LCFAs.

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The liver isn’t the only organ that can make quick use of MCFAs. Animal studies have shown that MCFAs can easily cross the blood-brain barrier to be used as energy by the brain [29]. The metabolism of MCFAs may also generate ketones, which are readily available fuel sources for the brain [30].

CharacteristicMedium-chain triglyceridesLong-chain triglycerides
Contains essential fatty acidsNoYes
Number of carbon atoms6 to 1213 to 21 (> 21 = very long chain fatty acids)
Bile and pancreatic enzymes required for digestionNoYes
AbsorptionDirectly absorbed into the liver; very little stored in fatTransported by the lymph system to muscle and fat for later use

Medium-chain fatty acids include caproic acid (six carbon atoms), caprylic acid (eight carbon atoms), and capric acid (10 carbon atoms). Lauric acid (12 carbons) is technically the fourth MCFA [31, 32] but the body has more difficulty digesting it, so you won’t find it in MCT oil [33, 34]. Typically, MCT oil contains a combination of caprylic acid (50-80%) and capric acid (20-50%) [35].

Who Uses MCT Oil?

Doctors may prescribe MCT oil as a dietary supplement for people who struggle to break down and absorb dietary fat [36]. This supplement can provide needed calories to people with impaired fat digestion without increasing the amount of malabsorbed fat in the stool [37, 38].

Fat malabsorption can result from the following [39]:

  • Insufficient pH in the small intestine
  • Damage to the intestinal lining, such as in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or celiac disease
  • Impairment to bile acid function, such as in liver disease or cholestasis
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
  • Pancreatic exocrine insufficiency from diseases that impair the production of pancreatic lipase, colipase, and bicarbonate
  • Faulty manufacturing or secretion of chylomicrons or lipoproteins, which are particles that transport fats throughout the body
  • Disorders of the lymphatic system, which transports fats throughout the body

Doctors may also recommend MCT oil to:

  • Alzheimer’s patients in an effort to improve their cognitive functioning [40]
  • Crohn’s patients who need an easier-to-digest source of fat calories [41]
  • Epileptic children and adolescents following therapeutic ketogenic diets [42]
  • Type 1 [43] or type 2 [44] diabetic patients

More mainstream consumers of MCT oil use it to try to improve cognition [45] and increase energy, metabolism, satiety, and weight loss [46, 47, 48, 49, 50]. Many keto and high-fat/low-carb dieters consider MCT oil to be a staple.

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How Safe Is MCT Oil?

No one needs a prescription or a diagnosis to take MCT oil. Thanks to reports of its weight loss and metabolic benefits, MCT oil has grown in popularity and can be found at most conventional or natural food stores and pharmacies. Keep in mind that weight loss has been very small in clinical studies, with healthy adults losing a little over a pound after more than three weeks of taking MCTs [51].

Nonetheless, MCT oil has become a dietary fad and is easy to find. On the other hand, this makes it more challenging to select a quality brand and take MCT oil appropriately. Also, it can give the impression that MCT oil can do no harm.

MCT oil may come with risks and should be used with caution, as follows:

  • Patients with uncontrolled diabetic ketoacidosis should avoid using MCT oil [52].
  • Patients with liver cirrhosis should not use large amounts of MCT oil because it could elevate levels of MCFAs in blood and spinal fluid [53, 54].
  • Patients with fat malabsorption syndrome or who must otherwise follow a low-fat diet should use MCT oil in conjunction with a source of essential fatty acids to avoid deficiency [55].

Little research has investigated the long-term daily use of MCT oil in healthy populations. However, an MCT oil manufacturer that supplies hospitals warns that allergy may occur, so keep an eye out for signs of an allergic reaction, such as itchy skin, hives, wheezing, trouble swallowing, or unusual swelling of the face in and around the mouth [56].

The company also warns about the potential for digestive side effects, including diarrhea, upset stomach, or vomiting, stomach cramping, or bloating [57, 58]. Furthermore, using MCT oil every day for more than six months could lead to lower levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, higher levels of triglycerides, and increase the risk for heart disease [59]. Granted, recent studies on MCT oil have found the opposite [60, 61], but caution is still warranted especially in those at risk for heart disease.

Overall, MCT oil seems pretty safe for most people, and you can likely avoid gastrointestinal side effects by starting out with a lower dose and slowly increasing over time to find out what feels right for you. Also, it’s worth it to get your triglycerides and cholesterol levels checked periodically to make sure they’re staying within normal limits.

How Much MCT Oil Per Day Is Best?

First, MCT oil should only be a portion of your daily fat calories. It does not contain essential fatty acids — those your body can’t make and has to get from dietary sources — such as omega-6 fats in nuts and seeds, and omega-3 fats in oily fish [62]. Therefore, think of MCT oil as a supplement to your regular diet.

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Supplementary MCT oil is best taken in doses of 15 to 20 mL per meal, up to 100 mL per day [63, 64]. Fifteen mL is about 1 tablespoon of MCT oil.

Start small and don’t exceed 50 mL (a little more than three tablespoons) per day for a week or two to watch for changes or symptoms. For example, you could have one tablespoon with breakfast, and if no symptoms arise, have another one with lunch and one with dinner. Or, you could just have one tablespoon for breakfast each day for a week and then add another at lunchtime each day the following week and so forth.

If all goes well and you want to try more, do so in divided doses with meals, but try not to exceed seven tablespoons (105 mL) per day in order to maintain digestive tolerance [65].

MCT oil can be taken in capsules or whole-oil form, or as MCT oil powder, which may be easier to digest. All can be added to meals or mixed with beverages, smoothies, sauces, salad dressings, or other foods. A popular option is to mix MCT oil or powder into coffee, Bulletproof style.

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Cooking with MCT oil is less common but alright as long as you keep the temperature below 302°F (150°C) [66]. Generally, fats with a smoke point below 392°F (200° C) are not good for deep frying but can be fine for medium-heat sautéing [67]. For comparison, coconut oil has a smoke point of 350.6°F (177°C) [68], olive oil has a smoke point of around 374°F (190°C) [69], and peanut oil has a smoke point of 450°F (232.2°C) [70]. These are usually better choices for cooking.

How To Find Quality MCT Oil Products

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Generally, the higher the concentration of MCTs—caprylic acid in particular—the better the MCT oil product [71]. Ideally, look for brands that display the following:

  • A GMP stamp indicating Good Manufacturing Practices.
  • An ingredients list (Note: many people prefer to avoid products containing palm oil, the farming of which has contributed to deforestation [72]. If this is important to you, choose products that only contain MCTs from coconut oil.
  • The percentage and type of MCT: Typical MCT oil has around 55% caprylic acid and 35% capric acid. However, caprylic acid is the most readily absorbed and ketogenic MCT, so finding products with at least 95% caprylic acid content may be ideal [73].

The Skinny on Medium-Chain Fats

MCT oil can provide easily digested calories and a readily available energy source. You may benefit from MCT oil if you have digestive issues that limit fat absorption and/or you want help losing weight, feeling fuller with less food intake, improving mental clarity and cognitive function, or encouraging ketosis.

Start slowly and work your way up to optimize your body’s tolerance and benefit. If you run into any problems or just want more guidance, our clinicians and health coaches are here to help.

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