In the absence of carbohydrates, a ketogenic diet shifts the body’s primary energy-generating substrates from glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrates) to ketones (a byproduct of fatty acid breakdown).

However, ketogenic and other similarly fashioned low-carbohydrate diets have sometimes been characterized as being “unhealthy.” This is due, in large part, to their emphasis on higher dietary fat intake (60% - 75%).

Saturated fats, in particular, have borne the brunt of this concern. Yet, saturated fats derived from medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) have been shown to offer therapeutic benefits in certain disease states.

One MCT in particular—caprylic acid—has been making noise in the keto community for its ability not only to be rapidly be converted to ketones, but also for its reported remedial properties in various health-based applications.

The Breakdown of Fat for Energy

In order for the body to utilize fat and enter into ketosis (the “fat-burning” state), the body’s stores of glycogen must be significantly depleted.

A ketotic state is generally achieved through the restriction of dietary carbohydrates (<5% daily intake). In the absence of readily available glycogen, the body must create new forms of energy. It activates compensatory metabolic pathways where stored fatty acids are freed from adipose tissue and broken down to produce ketone bodies (acetone, acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyric acid). This process is called β-oxidation.Laffel1999

These ketone bodies then enter the energy-generating citric acid cycle (also known as the TCA cycle or Krebs cycle), which leads to the eventual multi-step production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the body’s “energy currency." Once there, ketones are an extremely efficient fuel for both the brain and the body.

Medium Chain Triglycerides

There are many key dietary supplements available for individuals on a ketogenic diet. There’s exogenous ketones that can be used for the maintenance of ketosis. Whey protein powders are supplements which can be used to enhance dietary protein intake and aid in muscle building and maintenance. Creatine, often used by athletes, can also be leveraged for rapid ATP generation. And don’t forget about multivitamins and fish oil to supply key micronutrients!

But among these supplements, MCT powders and oils have emerged as leading products of interest.

Used for increasing energy, mental clarity, reducing cravings, and/or engaging the body’s burning fat processes,HarveyCJDC2018 MCTs are 2 - 3 fatty acids chains made up of 6 - 12 carbon molecules.

MCTs are different than long chain triglycerides (LCT). LCTs enter circulation through the lymphatic system where they are delivered to peripheral tissues. MCTs are shuttled directly to the liver where they are quickly and easily metabolized to ketones.

Because they do not require energy or bile salts to be digested MCTs are more easily absorbed, stored, and used than longer-chain fatty acids such as those found in cooking oils.

Caprylic Acid

There are four main types of straight-chain MCTs that differ by carbon chain length: caproic acid (6 carbons), caprylic acid (also known as octanoic acid; 8 carbons), capric acid (10 carbons), and lauric acid (12 carbons).

This 8-carbon, medium-chain fatty acid is a naturally occurring compound found in animal milk. In fact, 10% - 20% of the fatty acids in milk are medium-chain fatty acids.Breckenridge1967 Caprylic acid is also found in coconut oil, palm oil / palm kernel oil, and human breast milk

MCTs can also be obtained through concentrated oils and powder supplements.

Caprylic Acid Health Benefits

Comprehensive research hasn’t yet uncovered the full metabolic mechanism of action behind the benefits of caprylic acid / MCTs.

However, a number of studies have highlighted significant links between increased intake of caprylic acid supplements / food-derived caprylic acid and improved health measures.

Below we briefly touch on eight of the most commonly-cited, health-based considerations for caprylic acid’s daily dietary incorporation.

Quick Conversion to Ketones

The appeal of MCTs is their ability to be quickly converted to ketones.

Caprylic acid in particular is often referred to as the “most ketogenic MCT” due to its rapid breakdown from an 8-carbon fatty acid to ketone bodies (which might increase to a faster conversion rate under fasting conditions).Vandenberghe2017

Seminal work from the 1970s first touted caprylic acid as a regulator of ketogenesis (the formation of ketone bodies from stored fat or ketogenic amino acids) when fasted animals appeared to be better equipped to convert caprylic acid to ketone bodies than non-fasted animals.Mcgarry1971

Fast-forward to 2017 when a study confirmed that isolated caprylic acid indeed had the highest NET ketogenic effect of all other tested MCTs.Vandenberghe2017

Researchers observed that purified caprylic acid elicited a 3.4x higher total plasma ketone response than coconut oil (which, in addition to C8, contains the 10 carbon capric acid and 12 carbon lauric acid).

The researchers also demonstrated a more favorable correlation with caprylic acid to plasma ketone levels than to capric acid alone, but future studies are warranted to determine if caprylic acid was the causative agent of this or if this was coincidental.

These findings led the authors to conclude that caprylic acid must be the driving ketogenic compound in supplements that contain a mixture of MCTs.

With that being said, you can increase ketone production by providing your body with the most ketogenic fat: C8

Neurological Protection

Ketone bodies have long been studied for their beneficial effects on neurological plasticity (the brain’s ability to change or adapt), neuronal signaling pathways, and cerebral disease states.Yang2019 In fact, the ketogenic diet was initially developed as a method to treat epilepsy.Martin2016

A wealth of scientific reports describe ketones as natural, safe and effective aids in combating epilepsy-associated symptoms—namely seizure management. It has been suggested that caprylic acid’s ability to easily cross the blood–brain barrier (a property of both medium and short chain fatty acids) may also be a key contributing factor to its anti-seizure properties,Spector1998 laying credence to keto’s mental clarity claims.

Several animal studies published in the last decade may provide a roadmap to such trials eventuating.

Researchers from Poland determined that caprylic acid is able to exhibit its anti-seizure effects in mice that were fed a high C8 containing-ketogenic diet as well as those fed a normal control diet.Wlaz2012 Based on their findings, the researchers proposed that the mechanism by which caprylic acid exerts its anti-convulsive benefits may be predicated on the physiological activity of adenosine, which is known to play a pivotal role in healthy brain activity.Socala2015

The effectiveness of caprylic acid seen in these animal studies provides a promising avenue for future investigation into the efforts to combat neurological issues.

However, the scarce number of human trials limits how much we can fully ascribe caprylic acid and its specific effects to the benefits associated with clinical epileptic management.

Cardiovascular Health

Proponents against increasing fat intake rightfully point to the generally accepted correlation between fats (particularly single-stranded saturated fatty acids) and increased risk for heart-related problems such as dyslipidemia, cardiovascular disease, and coronary heart disease.Chowdhury2014

While the concern is valid, a comprehensive analysis of previous studies suggested the risks associated with moderate saturated fatty acid consumption on cardiovascular or coronary heart disease are potentially overstated.SiriTarino2010 One such study indicated that hamsters fed caprylic acid (along with long-chain fatty acid, oleic acid) exhibited lower blood cholesterol levels and lower aortic accumulation of cholesterol compared to the control groups.Wilson2006

Additionally, meta-analyses have demonstrated that replacing saturated fat with vegetable oil rich in the essential polyunsaturated fat linoleic acid may, in fact, increase one’s risk for heart disease.Ramsden2013,Ramsden2016 This means that we still have a lot to learn about saturated fat and how it may be linked to heart disease.

Caprylic acid has also been shown to maintain “good” HDL cholesterol levels while improving the clearance of “bad” LDL cholesterol in mice fed a high cholesterol diet.Xu2013 A 2008 study published in the journal "Lipids" also identified caprylic acid as a modulator to plasma cholesterol levels, albeit in this study, it was found to be independent of regulating blood pressure.Kim2008

Antibacterial Properties

The candida fungus is primarily responsible for yeast infections as well as other fungal-related conditions such as oral thrush, jock itch, and nail fungus. Animal models have underscored caprylic acid’s effectiveness as a treatment for some candida-related infections.

Its efficacy has been ascribed to the innate ability to be inserted into fungal membranes.LiuS2008 This means that caprylic acid’s structure allows it to enter certain cellular membranes, thereby disrupting its structural integrity and, ultimately, results in the death of the cell. A comprehensive 2011 study showed that, as a direct or indirect result of this property, caprylic acid may be able to treat fungal issues related to an overgrowth of yeast (such as vaginal yeast infection) as well as its associated condition of frequent urination.Omura2011

However, there remains a lack of human investigations on the anti-fungal properties of caprylic acid.

Maintenance of Oral Health

Along with its supposed effectiveness in fighting vaginal yeast infections, recent data has suggested that caprylic acid’s candida yeast-battling properties can also be helpful in controlling mouth bacterial populations.

A 2012 study examined the role of MCTs in preventing oral fungi growth in mice. It determined that, of the four MCT treatments administered, caprylic acid treatments suppressed the growth of oral candida fungus growth on mouse tongues the best.Takahashi2012 However, future studies in humans are warranted.

Antimicrobial Properties

A walk down the beauty aisle of any supermarket will undoubtedly lead you to discover a variety of so-called “anti-aging” skin-care products. Outlandish claims aside, often times the chief ingredient of these products is coconut oil.

Caprylic acid is one of the MCTs found in coconut oil and, as such, carries the burden of upholding these “age-defying” claims.

Coconut oil has seen its therapeutic application used for the treatment of dermatological conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis, and dermatophilosis (bacterial infection resulting in dry skin and scabbing). Researchers from Connecticut conducted in vitro studies, which found that isolated caprylic acid might be an effective treatment for dermatophilosis.Valipe2011

The authors suggested that part of its treatment effect harkens back to caprylic acid’s aforementioned ability to break down (bacterial) cellular membranes, meaning caprylic acid may have antimicrobial properties.

Anti-Inflammatory Properties

The same anti-inflammatory properties that aid in managing skin inflammation have also been shown to help support gut health.

Caprylic acid and other MCTs have reported benefits in several digestive disorders including irritable bowel disorder / syndrome, gastric emptying, and lipid malabsorption.Belluzzi2000 To date, very little research has been done to illustrate the mechanisms behind these effects. However, there has been some evidence pointing to caprylic acid having sustained benefits in targeting Interleukin 8 (IL-8), a glycoprotein known to promote inflammation which is thought to have an association with Crohn’s disease.

Crohn’s is a painful inflammatory disorder which affects the digestive tract and often results in hernias, weight loss, and fatigue. Preliminary in vitro studies on human intestinal cells have revealed that caprylic acid is able to suppress the expression of IL-8,Hoshimoto2002 suggesting a road for the development of targeted treatment strategies for Crohn’s and potentially other gastrointestinal tract disorders.

Despite its supposed effectiveness for gut issues, it is important to note that caprylic acid is NOT a probiotic, meaning it is not a living organism that is able to innately act on gut microbiota.

Prevention of Antibiotic Resistance and Viral Transmissions

One concern of our increased use of antibiotics is the possibility of bacteria developing a resistance to those antibiotics. This has led health professionals to seek alternative, natural means of strengthening our immune system against bacterial infections rather than solely relying on antibiotics.

Preliminary evidence has shown supplementing with caprylic acid / MCTs to potentially be one such treatment strategy.

A pilot study carried out in 2005 showed that milk contaminated with a number of bacterial agents, including E. Coli, could be “treated” with caprylic acid, along with other monoglyceride compounds.Nair2005 On the virology front, a form of caprylic acid called caprylate (also known as octanoate) has been shown to be able to inactivate certain types viruses, including a form of the herpes virus, among others.

The results of this study indicated that caprylate was able to inactivate the virus while keeping intact certain proteins and / or active properties of the virus.Lundblad1991

Safety and Side Effects

As with all dietary considerations, it is important to take the supplement (or monitor food intake) in the recommended amounts.

Common side effects to the supplement form of caprylic acid include constipation, nausea, bloating, diarrhea, and the possibility of low calcium absorption. Owing to the fact that caprylic acid is a saturated fatty acid, those with elevated cholesterol or heart conditions should take precautions. Research regarding long-term consumption of caprylic acid / MCTs is still limited.

Additionally, individuals with hypotension (low blood pressure) should be aware of caprylic acid’s blood pressure-lowering properties and should consult with a doctor before combining supplementation with any medication being taken.

There is an inherent difficulty in maintaining a strict keto diet, especially in individuals looking to implement it as part of their epilepsy management routine which may limit its effectiveness over time. Lastly, as caprylic acid is broken down by the liver, more research needs to be done in order to verify the safety of increased intake when metabolized, particularly within populations with certain liver diseases which may cause complications in fatty acid breakdown.

Using C8 on Keto

The hardest part of achieving your goals with ketosis is often times the difficulty in accessing high-quality, ketogenic fat. An often-observed benefit of a ketogenic diet is a marked reduction in fat mass due the aforementioned natural metabolic shift in energy metabolism.

Healthy weight loss has long been correlated with an increased number of positive effects on health biomarkers such as better insulin control, decreased cardiovascular health, decreased joint pain, and better sleep. The incorporation of high-quality C8 MCT oil powder can offer additional therapeutic benefits, such as increased feelings of mental clarity all day, helping reduce cravings, or switching your metabolism into fat burning mode.

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