Five Side Effects of MCT Oil You Should Know About

If you’re following the Keto lifestyle, then chances are you’ve come across MCT oil. This fatty acid can boost fat-burning, energy, and performance. But did you know that using MCT oil may come with some unexpected side effects? 

Read on to learn what MCT oil is and how it can benefit you, as well as the most common side effects of MCT oil you’ll want to avoid. 

What is MCT oil? 

MCTs stand for ‘medium chain triglycerides’ and these are naturally occurring fats with shorter fatty acid ‘chains’ than most fats in our diets. Because of their shorter length we digest MCTs differently: they are digested more quickly to release energy, acting more like carbohydrates in the body than fats. When carbohydrate intake is low, such as on a Keto diet, MCTs can be converted by the liver into ketones, replacing glucose to fuel the muscles, heart, and brain. 

Where does MCT oil come from? 

Four different kinds of MCTs exist, including caproic acid, caprylic acid, capric acid, and lauric acid. Although these are found in foods such as palm oil and dairy products, by far the commonest source of MCTs is coconut oil, since 50% of its fats come from MCTs.

Is MCT oil good for you? 

MCT oil contains an array of nutritional benefits, many of which are the subject of ongoing research:

  • MCT oil may help weight management, especially when carbohydrate intake is low. This fat-burning state is called ketosis. MCT oil appears to improve self-reported feelings of satiety after eating due to its positive influence on hunger hormones such as leptin, as well as on triglycerides and glucose. MCT also has approximately 10% fewer calories than long-chain triglycerides, which are found in fatty foods such as olive oil, nuts, and avocados. 

  • MCT oil may positively impact sports performance by reducing lactate levels in the blood and helping athletes to train faster and for longer. Lactate can build up in muscles during intense exercise, causing burning and fatigue. 

  • MCT oil may support the growth and maintenance of good microflora in the gut, playing a role in inflammation, weight management, mood and hormone balance. 

  • MCT oil has also been studied in the context of Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and autism spectrum disorder alongside other protocols. However, more research is needed. 

  • Lastly, MCT oil is a powerful antimicrobial, which has shown to be effective against Candida albicans yeast infection, bacterial infections such as Clostridium difficile and other infectious bacterial and fungal pathogens. These effects are due to the caprylic, capric and lauric fatty acids contained in coconut oil. Coconut oil itself is a broad-spectrum antimicrobial which has been used as part of the Candida diet and other gut-healing modalities for decades. 

While all the above benefits may sound appealing enough to jump in with both feet and start with the maximum dose, the last benefit is also the reason you should exercise caution.  

5 side effects of MCT oil you should be aware of:

If you have a gut overgrowth problem, taking MCT oil can kill off excess bacteria, yeast, and parasites. While this can be an effective tool of healing, it can also cause some uncomfortable physical detox symptoms, sometimes called a ‘Herxheimer’ reaction:

  • When an antimicrobial agent kills off parasites and fungi in the intestines, they release toxins such as ammonia into the bloodstream, which can cause a variety of side effects from itching and brain fog to skin rashes and flu-like symptoms.

  • As pathogens are killed or injured, this triggers immune cells called phagocytes to consume the dead cells, as well as inflammatory chemicals such as histamine and cytokines. This immune reaction can add to uncomfortable detox symptoms. 

  • One of the commonest side effects of taking too much MCT oil is loose bowels. In other words, you might experience diarrhoea, along with stomach ache, cramping and flatulence. However, rather than this being evidence that MCT oil is toxic, it is usually a sign that your gut microflora is imbalanced.

  • Sometimes rather than diarrhoea, you may experience constipation. This delayed reaction suggests your elimination channels are sluggish and your bowels may struggle to get rid of the toxins efficiently. 

  • If you feel very tired, or have brain fog, you may need to support your detox channels by taking binders such as charcoal or bentonite clay. You should also hydrate sufficiently to move waste through your intestines so toxins are not reabsorbed. 

If after taking MCT oil you suffer from constipation or diarrhoea, stomach aches, skin rashes, flu symptoms or brain fog, don’t panic! The most important thing to know is that these symptoms are temporary; they’re not dangerous, and they will resolve if you slow down or stop taking the product. As discussed, your reaction to the oil may also reveal an underlying gut overgrowth problem, so it’s a good idea to address that through other means, such as diet and cleansing. 

How to Take MCT Oil

  • If you think you may be sensitive to MCT oil or any other MCT product, begin by taking a much smaller dose than is recommended (an eighth to a quarter tsp.), and start by taking it every other day rather than daily. 

  • Keep hydrated with water, electrolytes and/or dandelion and nettle tea. 

  • If you ache or have flu-like symptoms, soak in a hot bath with Epsom salts. 

  • Quercetin and/or antihistamines can help buffer an acute inflammatory reaction (sneezing, itching, etc.).

  • High-dose vitamin C and liposomal glutathione may help stop an acute Herxheimer reaction. 

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