When you think about energy sources for your body, what usually comes to mind? Certain foods and drinks? Most of us think about our energy level in relation to what we eat and drink without giving much thought, if any, to the type of fuel that we are providing to our bodies to keep us moving, growing, thinking, repairing and so much more.
So what types of fuel do you use and need to consider in order to perform at your best? Well, we often run on three naturally-occurring macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein, and fats. But there is a “fourth macronutrient” that does not occur naturally in the foods you eat – the ketone. This is of particular importance to brain function. So let’s take a look at the internal process that brings ketones into play as fuel and why it’s a powerful, healing option.
How and Why We Make Ketones
When you’re sleeping, when you diet or fast, or when you exercise heavily, glucose becomes in short supply in your body, so your liver starts converting fat back to fatty acids and you also break down amino acids for energy. These fatty acids can fuel most of your cells, but not your brain because fatty acids cannot pass through the blood-brain barrier.
So your liver produces ketones that can get into the brain to be used as fuel. These ketones can also be used for fuel by your muscles and tissues. This is where MCT oil comes in…as a possible ketone booster.
THE MCT/Ketone Connection
MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) are medium-length chains of fats that are easily digested.
This is in contrast to their long-chain triglyceride counterparts that come from most other types of fats and oils. Research shows dietary intake of long-chain triglycerides promote lipid accumulation and insulin resistance while MCTs have been associated with improved oxidative metabolism and a reduction in body fat mass.
MCT oil is usually extracted from coconut oil (and sometimes palm kernel oil). It can be taken by the spoonful, added to smoothies, shakes, and coffee, or added to baked goods. Many people use MCT oil in conjunction with a ketogenic (low-carb, moderate protein, high fat) diet. Remember, when you limit carbohydrates, you give your body that chance to convert fat into fatty acids and also produce ketones. MCT oil can very quickly be converted into ketones in your liver and these ketones become a convenient source of energy for your brain.
MCT Oil and Epilepsy
Research shows that the ketogenic diet is one of the best treatments for drug-resistant epilepsy. But researchers have found that adherence to a high fat diet can be difficult for some people. That challenge can be overcome by adding MCT oil to a regular diet instead. In one study, a man who had a history of multiple daily seizures added several tablespoons of MCT oil per day to his diet and the number of seizers decreased to one seizure every four days.
In another study that compared MCTs to the epilepsy drug Valproate, MCTs were shown to be more effective in epilepsy control and provided improved neuroprotection. Researchers concluded that the study of MCTs provides an exciting new area of research that can potentially offer stronger and safer epilepsy treatments.
The relationship between MCTs, ketones and epilepsy control are not yet fully understood. But it has been noted that MCTs directly inhibit glutamate receptors which are partially responsible for seizures, raise the seizure threshold and stimulate cells to make more mitochondria.
MCT Oil and Alzheimer’s Disease
Did you know that your brain represents about 2% of your body weight but it consumes about 20-23% of your energy requirements, mostly in the form of glucose? This glucose uptake and metabolism is impaired in Alzheimer’s disease. (AD). Therefore, AD is partly caused by chronic and gradual brain energy starvation. Knowing this, some researchers have questioned whether cognitive decline can be slowed down if this brain energy defect is addressed early in the onset of the disease.
Remember, ketones are the only significant backup fuel for the brain when glucose is low. Several clinical studies suggest that early stages of Alzheimer’s disease might be improved wit nutritional treatments that raise ketone levels.
In one study, patients with mild to moderate AD consumed 30 grams per day of two different MCT supplements, both for one month. Brain glucose and ketone uptakes were measured before and after the MCT interventions. On both types of MCT supplement, brain ketone consumption doubled. The study revealed that the relationship between blood ketones and brain ketone uptake was the same as in healthy young adults! Both types of MCT increased total brain energy metabolism by increasing ketone supply without affecting brain glucose utilization. Researchers concluded that ketones from MCT compensate for the brain glucose deficit in AD in direct proportion to the level of plasma ketones achieved.
Other studies show:
- 20 to 70 grams of supplemental MCTs, that include caprylic or capric acid, can improve the symptoms of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s.
- MCTs that are converted to ketones can potentially block protein receptors that cause memory loss
- MCTs in coconut oil helped improve memory problems in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.
MCTs might also help children with autism. One study showed improvements for children who followed a keto diet for 6 months. Another study found that adding MCTs to a gluten-free and ketogenic diet significantly improved autism behaviors for some of the children in the study.
This raises the question as to whether or not MCTs should be used to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. According to Cognitive Vitality, MCTs appear to be low risk when taken by healthy adults. Mild gastrointestinal side effects are common, especially when MCTs are first incorporated into the diet. This generally improves over time and is mitigated when MCTs are taken with food.
These are just a few of MCT’s potential benefits. You can add it to your diet in several ways.
As I mentioned earlier, you can take liquid MCT oil for quick, reliable energy. You can easily mix it into smoothies, shakes, sauces, teas or coffee, or bake it into a delicious fat-friendly cookie for a less intense, longer duration spike in ketone production.
MCT supplements are also available in powder form that can easily be added to a variety of food, smoothies or other drinks.
Whether you choose a liquid or powder, you’re giving yourself better brain health, improved mental focus, and a boost of energy to start your day. That’s something worth thinking about.