During the First World Coconut Conference held in Manila (https://www.worldcoconutcongress.com/conference.html), Philippines in August 2018, I was invited to speak about my experience with MCTs (medium chain triglycerides) and Fat loss.
MCTs are triglycerides, that is saturated fats with a glycerol backbone and three chains of fatty acids with a chain length between 8 and 12 carbon atoms. These MCTs are contained in coconuts and palm kerns and are also present in milk and particularly in maternal milk. Coconut oil contains about 50% MCTs. When MCTs are extracted from coconut, saturated long chain fatty acids (LCFA) are removed among other nutrients.
MCTs are becoming popular thanks to the increasing scientific evidence about their beneficial health properties. The most convincingly supported evidence is about a beneficial role of MCTs in increasing memory function in patients with mild Alzheimer. It has been shown by multiple publications that some 30g of MCTs per day can reverse the mental impairment of mild Alzheimer. A possible explanation of this phenomenon is that MCTs and keton bodies (derived from the metabolism of MCTs) pass efficiently the blood-brain barrier and represent an alternative fuel for the neurons that lose the ability to metabolize glucose during Alzheimer disease (also called for this very reason diabetes type 3).
Among the other properties of MCTs is that they represent a unique source of energy. MCTs are fatty acids with about 8Kcal/g Energy. These molecules behave very differently compared to LCFA in that they not need any binding to pass through the plasma membrane and are readily available in the blood stream through the portal vein. Since these fatty acids pass through the cells membranes they are rapidly available as energy and do not have the tendency to be accumulated as fats.
Moreover, some studies show how MCTs increase the metabolism by increasing the energy expenditure. Both these two last features make so that MCTs might be of interest in dietary regimens.
MCTs and in particular lauric acid (C12) have been proven to have antibacterial and antiviral properties that have been used for treating gingivitis, oral candidiasis and buccal infections with an efficacy similar to the antibiotics.
I addition to the above-mentioned properties MCTs have been used to treat skin conditions such as rushes and dermatitis, also in newborns. The similar chemical properties of MCTs compared to sebum make it particularly suitable for skin topical applications.
One of the most promising but still quite controversial applications for MCTs is their ability to burn fat being a complement for some dietary regimens intended to lose weight. Results are still controversial with no clear-cut sentence about their utility for this purpose.
In our experience, MCT may reveal to be very important in weight management but only in the context of a healthy lifestyle and the appropriate dietary regimen.
Wellness derives from the balance between balanced nutrition and enough exercise. The main macronutrients that we introduce with the diet are carbohydrates, proteins and lipids.
While carbohydrates and proteins have higher tendency to influence glycemia, lipids do it to a far lower extent. This means that when we introduce with the diet carbohydrates and proteins we first increase the glycemia in the blood and then we assist – due to the action of insulin – to a phase of hypoglycemia. It is during this phase that we may feel nervous, hungry and feel the urge to eat rapidly something possibly sugary like a soda or a sweet snack.
The experience of a surgeon with MCT
I started taking MCTs encouraged by the increasing amount of evidence supporting their health benefits. I was struggling with weight since a few years and could not find the dietary regimen that could fit my busy life between the clinic, surgeries and my family with three kids at home. I was also looking for a better fuel for my body to have more energy without using too much of stimulants like caffeine which were making me feel good for a while but then made me crush.
Along all my life, regardless of the time of regimen I was trying to have to lose weight and the amount of exercise I was putting in my schedule, I kept breakfast as a cardinal point in my nutrition. In most cases I was forcing myself to have breakfast as I never really enjoyed eating so early in the morning (I wake up at 5:30 am). During long operations I would start feeling very irritable and I would feel the urge to fill myself rapidly with something sweet. I would even scrub out operation to eat something because also my hands would start shaking (not a good thing for a surgeon). But one day I listened to an interview of a Hollywood star, Hugh Jackman and since then my life has never been the same again. He was talking about his difficulties with diets and that the only regimen he was able to stick to was to skip breakfast. This special regimen allowed him to get in the wonderful shape we all admired in wolverine.
I did immediately more research and found that the statement that we all heard “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is not supported by any scientifically sound publication. I could find nothing supporting this statement. Maybe Hugh Jackman was right then? I looked in the literature and found that fasting has several benefits. First, it is during fasting that our tissues and organs repair and regenerate (not when we are filled with macronutrients to digest). Correlated to this, it is also been showed that the growth hormone (GH), the anabolic hormone, increases significantly during fasting.
Fasting is also the best way to reduce overall daily intake of calories, because by skipping breakfast it does not mean that we will eat more during the day. It is also during fasting that we use lipids as main fuel for the brain and other organs, promoting lipolysis and weight loss.
What happens in the body during fasting? Many people are afraid that during fasting we risk causing damages to the body and the brain (as it is though that the brain can only work with sugar). Rather than damaging the body, during fasting we purify the body and put it in reparation mode. After a few hours from the last meal we use up all the nutrients that we ingested and the metabolism switches from using glucose as the main source of energy to fats. The glycemia is not affected then so we do not suffer from the hypoglycemic downs that make us feel the urge to eat immediately something sweet.
It is also the preferred time to exercise if we want to lose wait because the energy our body will need will be found in the fatty tissues.
Since I started – a few years ago – to skip breakfast I have a much better weight control and I do not feel hungry in the morning. But where would I find the extra energy to kick start my day and support me during my mental and physical activities? It became clear to me that the source of energy would have to come from something that would allow in a way to continue my fasting state. It would also have to be a substance that is not particularly excitatory as I am sensitive to caffeine.
Here is where MCTs came into play in my life: I started to take a load of MCTs in the morning – 15 grams after a glass of water. This readily available energy is perfect for mental and physical activities. Nothing made me feel as in good balance physically and mentally than MCTs.
MCTs do no affect significantly glycemia, so no ups and downs in energy balance and are not stimulants, so no more shakings, that are important to avoid in my profession. They stimulate the formation of keton bodies that are the best source of energy for the brain and the other tissues of the body. The combination of fasting with a morning load of MCT, what I call “MCT breakfast” changed for the better my life: I keep my weight under control, I have an excellent level of energy and concentration and I feel great.
Since the results of my experience I recommend all my healthy patients frustrated with the lack of results trying to lose weight to try the MCT breakfast and results have been so far extraordinary: the compliance is very high (it seems to me that the most of the people force themselves to have breakfast) and people are pleased with this type of approach averaging 2 to 6 kg lost in three months.