By Dr. Justin Marchegiani
Most people aren’t aware of the benefits of coconut oil, MCT oil, and ketosis. Coconut oil is a fat that has been really popular over the last five or ten years. It is a saturated fat, which means it essentially has a very stable temperature, allowing you to cook it at higher temperatures and not rancidify the fat. Healthy saturated fats are really important for optimal health.
The Chemistry behind Saturated Fat
Saturated fat is nothing more than open carbon (C) atoms linked, or bonded, together. Each open carbon atom can take on four bonds, and when all four bonds are in place, the bond is saturated. By comparison, in monounsaturated fat, one (mono) of those bonds is a double bond. And in polyunsaturated fat, more than one (poly) of those bonds are double bonds.
The Chemistry behind Coconut and MCT Oil
Carbon chains consisting of six (C6), eight (C8), ten (C10), or twelve (C12) carbon atoms are known as medium chain triglycerides (MCT). The majority of the fat in coconut oil consists of the following MCTs:
- Caproic fatty acids (C6)
- Caprylic fatty acids (C8)
- Capric fatty acids (C10)
- Lauric fatty acids (C12)
Whereas coconut oil contains all four MCTs, or fatty acids, MCT oil is primarily made of caprylic (C8) and capric (C10) acids, so the carbon chain is eight or ten carbons long.
Benefits of MCT Oil
The benefit of using MCT oil over regular coconut oil is that we get seven to eight times more concentration of the C6 and C8 or C8 and C10 fats. The health benefits to adding MCT oil to your Bulletproof coffee or your tea, for example, include a nice boost to your metabolism and brain function.
Benefits of Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is an abundant source of lauric acid (C12) and has many health benefits including ketosis, decreased cravings, boosted immune functions, weight loss, and enhanced brain health.
A lot of those fatty acids, those medium chain triglycerides, convert into ketones through a process called ketosis.
Ketones are breakdowns of the fat that our body can use for fuel and energy, especially parts of our brain that have been damaged because of a metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance. This will keep the brain from being able to utilize glucose for fuel, but a lot of times the brain can refuel using ketones and light right back up.
If you want to learn more about ketones, so a search for Dr. Veech of Harvard University. Jimmy Moore’s book Keto Clarity will give you more information on ketosis.
It’s important to understand the difference between ketosis and keto-acidosis.
Keto-acidosis has to do with disease pathology, such as liver cirrhosis or type 1 diabetes.
When we go into ketosis, it’s not because of starvation. It’s nutritional ketosis, which is having an adequate amount of calories but keeping sugar low. It’s actually a normal bodily function, and there are a lot of health benefits in ketosis.
The nice thing about ketones is they assist appetite regulation in the brain, telling you when you’re full. This decreases cravings. When we burn fat for fuel (ketosis), it helps our body understand when its hungry and when its not. So burning fat for fuel is incredibly satiating.
Boosted Immune Function
Lauric acid, the 12-carbon fat in coconut oil, has a lot of immune-boosting qualities. This is actually the primary fat that’s in mother’s breast milk that really helps support the child’s immune system and acts as an antibacterial.
In some of my antiviral programs I put together for patients, I use a product called monolaurin. An awesome benefit of monolaurin is it helps destroy viruses.
How do viruses work?
Viruses are nanoparticles—tiny compared to bacteria. Imagine the tiny virus particle wearing a cloak. This cloak keeps it covered so the immune system can’t see it. Since it can’t see it, it can’t attack.
A super high dose of monolaurin, lauric acid extract, uncloaks the virus so the immune system can see it and then attack and destroy it. That’s one of the really awesome benefits of using coconut oil supplements, which are rich in lauric acid. They can really knock out viruses, such as Epstein-Barr, cytomegalovirus, or even herpes.
The Journal of Lipid Research published a study on weight loss comparing coconut and soybean oils. Two groups of women over 40 were tested for 40 days. One group was given soybean oil and the other was given coconut oil. They saw better weight loss in the coconut oil group. They also saw an improvement in LDL and HDL numbers in the coconut oil group.
Soybean oil is an omega-6 monounsaturated fat that feeds proinflammatory pathways. Coconut oil is more anti-inflammatory in nature because of those C6 to C12 medium chain fatty acids, and that’s the weight-loss benefit of it.
In another group, they looked at long chain fatty acids, fats over eighteen carbons long. They compared them to coconut oil, and they saw a significant benefit—a 60% reduction—in the group that lost the most weight: the coconut oil group. That study was in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Enhanced Brain Health
Like I mentioned above, a lot of people have metabolic issues and are not able to light up parts of the brain that can no longer use glucose for fuel. If you have adrenal fatigue, you may want to be careful about relying on ketones fully because typically ketosis and gluconeogenesis work together and gluconeogenesis is cortisol dependent.
Coconut and MCT oils can help achieve ketosis, and a lot of people do well with ketosis. But if you’re doing a lot of exercise or physical work, you may need more carbohydrates. If you have adrenal or thyroid issues, this is kind of a controversial topic, and we should test and see how you respond to ketosis-supporting measures.
Remember, everyone’s a little different. I do well on a cyclical ketogenic, going very low carb throughout the day with a little more of my carbs at night. You have to find what works for you and test it out on a ketone meter; or using your blood sugar meter results pre and post-meal as a gauge. Check out below for a good starting point.
Blood Sugar Testing Range
Fasting: 100 mg/dl
1 hour post meal: <140 mg/dl
2 hour post meal <120 mg/dl
3 hour post meal <100 mg/dl