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Medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs is a particularly influential thing for our body as it makes ketosis easier and more effective. However, we have to keep in mind that we don’t fall prey of all the marketing that’s out there shading lights on MCTs.
The dynamics of MCTs on our body are amazing and more interesting part is the way our body absorbs it. In this article we would make sure that we have a proper understanding of MCTs so that we get to know as to what happens when we consume it.
To understand as to how a medium chain triglyceride functions in our body, we have to go through some bookish stuff. First thing, we have to understand what a triglyceride is and the structure of fatty acid.
If we shed a light on the dietary fats in the first place, we found different carbon atom chains that are called short chain fatty acids, long chain triglycerides or long chain fatty acids.
However, the key point that we are going to discuss today is medium chain triglycerides. They are different carbon atoms that are linked together. For example:
- Short-chain fatty acid contains anywhere from two to six carbon atoms
- Medium-chain fatty acid possesses between six to twelve carbon atoms.
- Long-chain fatty acids have anywhere from 12 to 22 carbon atoms.
Functions of Triglyceride
For a second we would shift our focus at the word triglyceride. Triglyceride is just a fancy technical term for fat. Functions of triglyceride are restricted to two things in our body. Either go into the cell and be used for energy and actually metabolized through aerobic metabolism or they can get stored as a dove tissue or body fat.
But one important thing we have to keep in mind that no matter what whether it’s a short chain triglyceride, a long chain triglyceride or a medium chain triglyceride, all triglycerides are three fatty acids bound to a glycerol backbone. Putting it together triglyceride is three fatty acids and glycerol molecule.
Since, we have a basic understanding of triglyceride, now we solely focus on MCTs and hopefully everything is going to make sense. MCTs do possess some unique properties.
The first one is it has significantly lower calories, to be exact ten percent comparing to other fats. Most fats are nine and nine and a half calories per gram whereas MCTS are only eight.
The reason is the shorter chain makes them digest quite a bit easier. And they’re converted into energy which ends up having a quotient for us when it comes down to calculating calories. Because they are a shorter chain and they’re metabolized considerably quicker. This is one of the main reason MCT oil are so important in ketogenic diet.
How MCT Functions
Now, let’s have a look at how they’re easily converted into energy. Let’s do some science for better understanding of MCT functionaries. Inside our body mitochondria ATP – adenosine triphosphate – is created, which provide us with energy when we work out or even we decided against working out.
Even when we speak, we use ATP to have energy and it happens in the mitochondria. Because of their short chains, MCT Oil can go right into the mitochondria. Subsequently create ATP and provide immediate energy.
Whereas, a long chain triglyceride or a normal fat that has to go through a whole separate pathway as it doesn’t have the direct access to mitochondria. It has to use carnitine to get into mitochondria. You may have heard people talk about using carnitine as a fat burner.
But how? Basically, carnitine helps get these long-chain fatty acids into the mitochondria to create energy better. However, if we go straight to the MCTS, we can bypass the use of intermediary like carnitine. Therefore, it helps create more acetyl coenzyme and that leads to more ketones which equals more energy. The crux of the matter is that MCTS help create energy faster.
Digestion Process of Long-Chain Fatty Acids
Now we are going to do some scientific breakdown to draw comparisons between digestion process of MCTS and long-chain fatty acids. We actually doing this a little bit backwards. We explained how the energy is created first and now we want to go back and explain how they’re actually physically digested in the body.
Okay, let’s shed some light on digestion of a long chain triglyceride or a long-chain fatty acid. When we consume a long chain triglyceride, a regular fat not an MCT, we end up having this process where the fatty acids are separated by an enzyme known as lipase.
- Function of Lipase: it takes the fatty acids off of that glycerol molecule. It takes that triglyceride, it breaks apart the glycerol and leaves us with fatty acids. These fatty acids go through a different enzymatic function and ultimately form something that’s known as a micelle.
- Function of Micelle: What this micelle does is it can cross through the intestinal tract and cross through it’s called the enterocyte and it gets into the lymphatic system.
Once it’s in the lymphatic system it reattaches to a glycerol. Here it starts as a triglyceride, it’s broken down into a micelle losing its triglyceride characteristics. Then once it’s back in your bloodstream and our lymphatic system, it turns into a triglyceride again because glycerol is reattached.
This whole process involves the liver, it involves bio salt and it’s a very complex process to break down fats and it is not easy. That’s why they’re harder to digest quite literally.
Digestion Process of MCTS
Now let’s shift our focus on MCTs and how those are digested. MCTs get preferential treatment when it comes to absorption. Because of their shorter length, they don’t need a micelle or they don’t need to get converted into a micelle. But they’re transported directly from what’s called the portal vein into the liver where they get preferential oxidation. Because they’re shorter and easier to break down go straight to the liver where they oxidize for fuel.
When MCTS get inside the liver, the liver catabolizes these MCTS into shorter carbon chains. Remember, we mentioned earlier, the shorter the carbon chain the easier to digest. So the liver breaks it down into c2 fragments. C2 meaning 2 chains, just two carbon atoms, so it’s really small chain. What it does is it turns them into acetyl coenzyme-A esters. A c2 fragment would be an acetyl coenzyme-A ester.
Acetyl coenzyme -A esters are basically the building blocks for energy in the mitochondria. Once we have the acetyl coenzyme-A esters that are formed from the fat which again has been completely reorganized. Then it gets metabolized by acetyl coenzyme -A dehydrogenase, that’s what breaks down the acetyl coenzyme into acetyl acetate and beta-hydroxybutyrate.
All the difficult terms mentioned above mean that MCTs can go straight to the liver bypassing intermediary like carnitine. Then they can get converted into literally energy and it’s metabolized into ketone bodies. That therefore give us even more energy because we know that ketone bodies are extremely efficient when it comes to creating energy.
If we summarize the whole thing, we get to know that MCTS are efficiently burned and don’t get stored as body fat. that’s the whole point a very small percentage like less than half percent of the calories that are consumed from MCTS are ever stored as fat, they’re almost always exclusively burned.
So when we’re on a ketogenic diet or a low carb diet and we’re not utilizing glucose metabolism, we want to get those MCTS in because our body will use them and it goes into straight-up energy.