Ketosis Made Simple: The Science Behind MCT Supplements

If you are new to keto-eating, you may not have heard of these three magical letters: MCT. A seasoned keto veteran still ought to read this post with a high level of focus. MCT stands for Medium Chain Triglycerides. Let’s get to the truth about them. MCT supplements deliver the fats that your body converts into ketones.

MCT supplements supply the perfect sized fats for boosting ketones.

Watch out. There is a lot of misinformation out there.
Triglycerides are fats floating in your blood. Every time you see the word triglyceride, think of the fat that I could see if I drew some of your blood.

Fats line up in a string or chain. We sort fats based on the length. The more fat molecules strung together, the larger the molecular chain. Short triglyceride (aka fat) chains have 4-6 links each. Long-chain-fats have 12 or more links. Medium chain triglycerides, MCTs, have 8 to 10 links of fat. Much like Goldilocks, MCTs are not too short, not too long-they are just right. They are ‘medium.’ Just the right size.

Just the right size for what?
Just right for slipping through a special nutrient trapdoor hidden in the first part of your small intestines. This trapdoor is your portal vein. It allows direct and almost instant absorption of specific select nutrients.

Your body absorbs food through the gut lining that looks much like a plush carpet. Nutrients then enter into your lymph system by way of this carpet. The lymph filters food looking for anything dangerous. The lymph functions as a safety net where nutrients get sorted, screened and shuffled before entering your bloodstream. This slower lymph-network protects us against toxins, poisons, or bacteria.

Exceptions to this absorption route exist. Only valuable foods skip the body’s security check when entering.

These foods gain direct entry into your blood through the portal vein. Think of this as a trapdoor or VIP entrance. Valuable foods can bypass the sorting happening in your lymph system.

It is a risky way to allow nutrients into your body. The value of that morsel must be high enough to be worth the risk. If your body messes up and allows a toxin to enter through this back channel, you won’t remain alive for long.

After entering into the portal vein, this vein ports the blood to the liver. All other veins in the body lead to the heart. This portal vein carries these VIP morsels a few short centimeters away. This special liver-delivery feeds the best foods to the most powerful “furnaces.’

By furnaces, I mean mitochondria. Mitochondria turn fuel into energy. Your liver cells harbor the best mitochondria for churning fat into ketones.

Yes. Your liver’s mitochondria produce the lion’s share of ketones within our body.

MCTs are one category of nutrients allowed through this special entrance. In fact, all fats with ten links or less in their string fit through this trapdoor. These strings line up to fuel the liver within minutes of absorption.

Longer fats, like those containing 12 links or more, use the standard absorption process. These fats trickle through your lymph system getting sorted and screened. This process takes 2-3 hours before entering your circulation.

VIP fats that fit through the trap door turn into ketone energy that your body can use immediately.

As a baby, you stored fat all over your body.

The fat swaddling a healthy baby holds high amounts of fat with 8-10 links of fat. Fats called C8 to contain eight links of fat in their chain. Those with ten lengths we call C10. Infants fill their cells with this high energy fat.

How come? Speed. C8 and C10 convert into abundant ketone fuel in rapid order. Between milk feedings, a baby taps this fat storage system for quick energy. It is an evolutionary advantage. When food is scarce, babies survive by fueling from their stored fat. A fast-growing baby requires fast access to abundant energy: C8, C10.

Why should you care about any of this? Some of you won’t care. You will transition to a high fat, ketogenic diet and eventually your system will purr along on a ketone fueled motor by following the rules. I wish I could say that from here on out you will live happily ever after.

Some of you, unfortunately, won’t enjoy such a perfect journey. Your first attempt at keto will be new and exciting. Weeks later, your carb intake sneaks back up, and your ketones fall. Ketosis’ benefits fade and you bounce out of the keto wagon completely. Your newfound keto lifestyle did not become a lifelong habit.

Your initial ketosis success fades further and further into memory. You felt better when you did keto, and you’d like to try again.

You join many others that hate the keto transition. Suffering through the transition the first time stinks. But the second time, you know what is coming. People struggle with the mood and energy slumps between giving up carbs and arriving at the other side: nutritional ketosis.

People are switching to a keto lifestyle use one of 2 tricks.

TRICK #1: Use “ketones-in-a-can.” These are ketones made in the laboratory and consumed in supplements. Exogenous ketones come from outside of the body. They come from a chemist in a lab. That topic is for another day. Another blog.

TRICK #2: Use MCT supplements.

MCTs cut the transition short. MCTs slip into the liver and line up in front of the cell-furnaces. MCTs, skip the 2 hours ‘holding cell’ used by the lymph system. These fats process through the mitochondria and provide ketones within minutes. Unlike “ketones-in-a-can” MCTs arrive naturally in circulation.

MCTs produce ketones in a flash. This trick allows you to avoid the side effects found in the slump when your body goes from glucose to ketones. Package labels for MCT supplements promise rapid ketones and thus lower side effects.

The only fats that produce rapid delivery of ketones are ten links or shorter. They must fit through your trapdoor to deliver on that promise.

C8 fits. C8 is the chemistry shorthand for the string of fats with eight links. We named that fat chain with eight links caprylic fatty acid.

C6 bears the name caproic. C6 fits through the trapdoor too, but it is short enough to qualify as a short chain fat. C10, capric, also fits. C12, chains with twelve links don’t fit. C12 is too long.

Longer fatty chains trickle through your lymph system using the slow, safe entrance. Fats found in butter and heavy whipping cream stroll through your security check. These longer chain fats may convert into ketones somewhere in the future. They don’t fit through the VIP entrance and take much more time to process.

Pricey MCT supplements sell you on the speed of their ketone formulation. The money buys you speedy ketones and fewer side effects when transitioning. Quick ketones in the blood push away hunger. The faster you circulate ketones, the swifter your mitochondria start processing them. Weeks without seeing a ketone and mitochondria put the ketones-burning-parts back into storage. Waking up those tools begins with exposing them to ketones.

MCTs are worth the money. They work well. I recommend MCT supplements to all my patients. I recommend “ketones-in-a-can” when patients are stuck.

It is easy to get fooled into paying for fats that are too long. Fats longer than ten links do NOT gain you any advantage. These do NOT metabolize into ketones quickly.

Let’s use the biggest scam I see: coconuts. Hold on; coconuts have lovely fats in them. That is not the scam.

Advertising teams linked the letters MCT to coconuts. A coconut abounds with fats too big to squeeze into your portal vein. Yep.

Coconuts have 85% of their fats with chains too long to pass the test. Most coconut fat joins butter-fat in the leisurely stroll through the lymph system.

Slick marketers focused on the 15% of coconut oil that does fit. Suppliers of supplements convert coconut oil into powder form and market it as MCT. They keep the long-chain fats in their product and don’t pay to remove them.

Look at this size chart below comparing the different fats.

NOTICE: The three smallest fats found in coconuts bear similar names: caproic, caprylic and capric. With 6, 8 and 10 chain-links, they all fit into your portal vein and zip into ketones.

These three fats come from the same root word: caprine. Caprine originates from the Latin word for goats. Goat products deliver many products with C6, C8, and C10.

Had the goat industry hired a better marketing team, we would associate goats with MCT instead of coconuts. It would make more scientific sense.

Instead, coconuts hold the marketing title as an excellent source of MCT. Goats better deliver over coconuts for true MCTs.

How can you tell the difference?

1)Read labels. Quality providers that deliver true MCTs in their supplements tell you. They boast of NO LAURIC ACID (C12) in their MCT. My chemistry professor would scold them for not being able to count if he saw them labeling Lauric Acid a medium chain fat. It is a long chain fat.

2) Check your numbers. If you’re keto enough to spend the money on supplements, spend the effort to check blood ketones. Test out your supplements. Check your ketones before you take in your expensive MCT oil. Then set your timer to check your blood ketone numbers every 15 minutes for an hour.

If the fats in the supplement fit through the portal vein, you will see it. Some patients see their ketones rise at the 15-minute mark. Others struggle with inflammation in their gut and don’t see the spike until 30 minutes. If you see very little change in your blood ketones after 60 minutes, something is wrong. Maybe your blood meter isn’t accurate. Or perhaps you were sold LONG chain fatty acids instead of the medium ones. The numbers will tell you what your body did with that supplement.

The CLINCHER: MCT OILs and POWDERS created unequally. Use MCT C8: C10 powder to boost your ketone production. This healthy way to promote your ketone production also reduces inflammation.

Don’t waste your money on fats that are too long.

Read the ingredients label. If the MCT’s root word is not caprine, it is the wrong size to be a rapid converter. Longer fats take hours to process through your slower, safer lymph system. If you want C12, it’s cheaper to use a scoop of coconut oil.

For fast ketone production, use MCT C8: C10. Here is a link to one that I like:


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