Medium chain triglycerides (MCT) are molecules that have a glycerol backbone with three fatty acid chain and are derived from natural, plant oils. A major difference between MCT and other mixing agents is that MCTs have both water-loving and oil-loving molecular properties. This characteristic has been shown to increase bioavailability of active compounds that do not mix well with water. MCT acts like a medium between the oil liking actives (cannabinoids and terpenes) and your blood by attaching to both. This may be one advantage over other products if used as a mixing agent as the formulation could enhance the active ingredients.
Triglycerides are a diverse group of molecules that vary in size and structure and can be classified in three forms; short chain (SCT), medium chain (MCT) and long chain (LCT). The chain refers to the length, or number of carbon atoms, of three fatty acids attached to the backbone. This chain length varies with SCTs having between 1-5 carbons, MCTs having between 6-12 carbons, and LCTs having 12 or more carbon atoms. The differing chain lengths have a direct effect on the properties of the molecules, like boiling point and viscosity, as well as their interactions in the body.
When discussing the characteristics of MCT products it is important to consider not only chain length, but product sourcing and production as well. Bulk oils, like coconut oil, contain a mixture of SCT, MCT and LCT molecules. The ratios of these different molecules greatly affects the product characteristics as well as how the oils are absorbed by the body. For instance, MCTs are quickly converted into ketones, a source of energy, whereas larger molecules like LCTs need to be metabolised by enzymes and reside within the body longer. Some questions of safety of vaporizing coconut oil or MCT can be addressed by understanding the residence time of molecules within the lungs. Some studies have shown that because MCTs are quickly converted into smaller molecules this reduces some side effects of concern with mixed bulk oils. As well, some MCT products are refined to contain a specific ratio of known chain length molecules and are created consistently batch to batch. This known molecular content provides consistency in effectiveness for increasing bioavailability and for shelf life.
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