Side effects: MCT oil vs virgin coconut oil

Man dashing to toilet thinking MCT oil or virgin coconut oil causing side effects

Are you taking MCT oil or virgin coconut oil, or both? I take both. And I realize that MCT oil and virgin coconut oil can trigger side effects like diarrhea, heart palpitations, anxiety and hot flashes etc when you overdose on them. Not just overdosing, ingesting the dietary oils on an empty stomach, with a high-fat ketogenic diet or mixing them up with coffee or thyroid drugs can induce the side effects too.

Seems like both oils are the same, aren't they?

Technically speaking, MCT oil and virgin coconut oil are not the same though they produce similar side effects.

MCT oil carries only caprylic acid and capric acid. Whereas virgin coconut oil, besides holding what MCT oil has, also contains caproic, lauric, myristic, palmitic, stearic, oleic and linoleic acids.

Fatty acidsMCT oilVirgin coconut oil
Caproic acid
0~ 0.5%
Caprylic acid
35 – 75%~ 7%
Capric acid
25 – 45%~ 6%
Lauric acid
0~ 42%
Myristic acid
0~ 17%
Palmitic acid
0~ 9%
Stearic acid
0~ 3%
Oleic acid
0~ 6%
Linoleic acid
0~ 2%
Though some MCT oil brands have included the medium-chain lauric acid in their products, lauric acid is not a typical constituent of MCT oil. A typical MCT oil composes of only caprylic acid and capric acid.

1. If MCT oil and virgin coconut oil are different, why do they trigger similar side effects?

Did you see anything similar between the two oils in the table above?

You're spot on, caprylic acid and capric acid. These are what potentially trigger diarrhea, heart palpitations and other side effects when you ingest MCT oil.

But virgin coconut oil contains only about 13% caprylic and capric. How is that possible for it to induce the side effects of diarrhea, heart palpitations and others like MCT oil?

It's lauric acid. Apart from caprylic and capric, lauric acid is also a medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA). (Caproic acid, which contributes only about 0.5%, is a bit too little to have much impact.)

Being particularly small in size, MCFAs can lead to a rise in metabolism and convert into energy very quickly.

That's why you get an incredible burst of energy after eating MCT oil or virgin coconut oil. And not just you, your bowels get the energy rush as well and push the stools forward.

Other than the MCFAs, glycerols also play a vital role in stimulating bowel movement.

What on earth are glycerols?

Glycerol is simply a molecule that ties 3 fatty acids together to form a triglyceride.

A triglyceride - 3 fatty acids attached to one glycerol molecule

Speaking of triglyceride, there are basically 3 different sizes of triglycerides, namely, short-chain triglyceride (SCT), medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) and long-chain triglyceride (LCT).

3 different sizes of triglyceride

Needless to say, LCT holds long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs), MCT holds medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) and SCT... short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).

SCFAs are rarely found in food, not to mention coconut oil or MCT oil.

These triglycerides are the building blocks of any dietary oils or fats.

So, when you consume MCT oil or virgin coconut oil, your body's digestive enzymes will separate the triglycerides into fatty acids and glycerols.

As LCTs in virgin coconut oil are larger and bulkier, they tend to digest a lot slower. MCTs, on the other hand, digest and break down rapidly into glycerols and MCFAs.

MCFAs energize and enhance the motility of your intestinal muscles while glycerols help to draw water to make your stools softer, more watery and hence, slippery.

That explains why many people easily got diarrhea after taking too much MCT oil or virgin coconut oil.

But here's the kicker. MCT oil might appear more intense in causing diarrhea than virgin coconut oil. How come?

2. Why MCT oil causes stronger diarrhea side effect than virgin coconut oil

In a typical MCT oil and using the table early on as well, we get:

Type of fatty acidsMCT oilVirgin coconut oil
MCFAs> 90%55.5%
In reality, you won't find 100% MCFAs in any MCT oil. Even in virgin coconut oil, all its fatty acids (MCFAs + LCFAs) will never add up to 100%. This is due to the presence of glycerols (released from triglycerides in the process of oil extraction), which can range anywhere from 5 – 10%.

Self-explanatory, right?

MCT oil has a greater number of MCFAs than virgin coconut oil. Which means, your bowels get more fuel from MCT oil than from virgin coconut oil (VCO).

Don't forget that MCT oil is filled with MCTs. And when MCTs digest quickly and break down in your body, you don't just get tons of MCFAs, but loads of glycerols, the natural stool softeners as well in that instant.

More MCFAs and glycerols in MCT oil than in virgin coconut oil

No wonder there are so many more "victims" of explosive diarrhea for taking MCT oil than for taking virgin coconut oil.

What's more, MCT oil comprises only caprylic acid and capric acid, which are shorter MCFAs that literally convert into energy faster than lauric acid (naturally found in virgin coconut oil).

Rate of energy conversion of medium-chain fatty acids

This means that for the same amount say, two tablespoons, MCT oil can induce stronger and quicker diarrhea side effect than virgin coconut oil.

In other words, if two tablespoons of virgin coconut oil can give you diarrhea in an hour, then you probably need only one tablespoon of MCT oil to get the runs in less than an hour.

To add insult to injury, you're more likely to suffer burning diarrhea with MCT oil than with virgin coconut oil. Why?

Multiple visits to the bathroom in a short time frame can wear out the skin tissues around the anus, causing burning poop. But MCT oil may make it worse. This is because some MCFAs will actually pass out with the stools instead of getting absorbed into the body.

What does MCFA stand for? Medium-chain fatty acid, right? So, it's an acid. And acid burns.

If that's the case, then eating virgin coconut oil should cause burning diarrhea too as it may also have MCFAs passing out with the stools.

That's true. But virgin coconut oil may also have LCTs that pass out undigested with the stools. LCTs are triglycerides that make you feel oily. So, these undigested LCTs can act as a lube to help grease the skin tissues around your anus, making your poop less burning.

MCTs are seldom undigested. They are so small that our body can easily break down. Some LCTs are just too big that they can pass out intact. That's why some people experience "oil leaking" from their bottom after consuming a bit too much virgin coconut oil straight off the jar.

3. Should you stop taking MCT oil or virgin coconut oil because they just seem so scary?

They're so beneficial to our health, why should you stop?

If you look at it from a positive perspective, MCT oil may offer quick constipation relief. Of course, if you don't want to get too much burning poop, you can go with virgin coconut oil to help with constipation instead. Right?

Okay, the truth is, consuming the oils may not give you diarrhea for sure.

Many people got diarrhea because they took MCT oil or virgin coconut oil on an empty stomach. This means that, as long as you don't take it on an empty stomach, you should be fine.

When you swallow MCT oil or virgin coconut oil by itself on an empty stomach, the mild acidity of the oil will graze the tissues on the back of your throat. This can irritate your throat and make it feel scratchy and ticklish, and cause gagging cough. However, the scratchy throat should heal in a few hours unless you get infected with viruses or bacteria during this period that cause your throat to become sore. To avoid scratchy sensation in future, take the oil with food.

Oops, actually that also depends on the portion size or the fiber content of the food or beverages against the amount of the oil you ingest.

For example, mixing one tablespoon of virgin coconut oil into a small bowl of fiber-rich oatmeal should help you poop nicely. Fiber helps to slow MCT digestion.

But adding 2 tablespoons might be a bit too much and could trigger mild to moderate diarrhea. If you want 2 tablespoons of virgin coconut oil into the oatmeal without diarrhea, simply increase the portion size of your oatmeal.

Another scenario. If adding 3 teaspoons of MCT oil to a cup of coffee gives you the runner's trot, then probably 2 teaspoons should just provide a good bowel movement for you instead of the runs.

Of course, some people are more sensitive and just 2 teaspoons of MCT oil added to their coffee will set them off. In that case, they just need to cut down the MCT oil to one teaspoon.

That said, no two persons will react exactly the same to the laxative effect of MCTs.

To gain the benefits without the side effects, you have to run some trial and error to find the right daily dosage of MCT oil or virgin coconut oil for your body.

4. How to stop diarrhea from MCT oil or virgin coconut oil

In case you're suffering the diarrhea right now that was caused by taking MCT oil or virgin coconut oil on an empty stomach early on, you can try eating some fiber-rich food like cooked oatmeal or whole-grain bread and see how it goes within the next hour.

The high fiber content in the food should help mitigate or stop the diarrhea and other discomforting symptoms such as stomach cramps, gassy stomach, bloating etc that follow.

However, if the fiber-y food triggers more frequent runs instead, then the only solution for you is to fast and wait for the diarrhea effect to taper off.

In the meantime, drink some salt water to replenish the loss of electrolytes and water. Imbalance of electrolytes and inadequate water can cause nausea, fatigue, headache or dizziness.

Once this episode of diarrhea is over, stop your consumption of MCT oil or virgin coconut oil completely in the next few days until you're fully recovered.

When you're ready to resume the oil consumption, start with just a teaspoon daily for a few days first. Keep in mind to add the oil to your meals (or beverages).

No more taking MCT oil or virgin coconut oil on an empty stomach, no matter what.

Once you feel okay with that one teaspoon daily, increase to 2 teaspoons per day and maintain that dosage for another few days, and so on.

In short, build up your intake gradually and progressively until you can safely ingest the amount of MCT oil or virgin coconut oil you need every day without diarrhea.

Does that mean you can now consume a lot of MCT oil or virgin coconut oil as long as you mix them into your meals?

Truth is, nope. You may not get diarrhea anymore but overdosing on MCTs might overdrive your metabolism and cause your heart to palpitate.

5. MCT-induced heart palpitations = heart attack?

Did you feel like your heart was going to jump out of your chest after eating MCT oil or virgin coconut oil?

No, not heart attack. Don't worry.

It's actually a sheer metabolic overdrive caused by an excessive uptake of MCFAs from the dietary oil. Your hands may also shake like you're having Parkinson's disease. And then brain fog and feeling flushed and hyped up the entire day.

Sound familiar? I've been there. I "dragged" my wife along too. 😬

What can you do when you experience these side effects?

Try to expend your energy as much as you can by working out or doing household chores. Or, do some brainstorming for your work or project etc. Or just simply let the hyper effect subside on its own over the next several hours.

And hopefully, by the time you hit the sack the side effects are gone.

Next time around, just make sure you don't add too much of your favorite MCT oil or virgin coconut oil to your meals or beverages.

Oh, even when you don't eat too much, your heart might still race like F1 especially when you couple the dietary oil with that cuppa joe in the morning.

6. Not so much MCFAs but heart still palpitates

Yes, caffeine plus MCFAs will set you up for bulletproof and make your heart palpitate and cause other hyperthyroid-like symptoms too.

Speaking of caffeine. Don't think that you need to ingest coffee together with MCT oil or virgin coconut oil then they'll blow you up to the sky.

They can "meet up" at separate times and still make you feel jittery and hyperactive for many hours.

Like my case. I don't have the habit of taking coffee (or tea) in the morning to pep myself up. But I forgot one snack that I love to munch on that carries caffeine also. Guess what?

Dark chocolate.

While my caffeine intake from this snack can't hold a candle to that in coffee, the problem is, I would just pop in a small piece at different times whenever I felt like it, in addition to eating lots of virgin coconut oil daily, from morning till night.

You know, ingesting a small amount of caffeine this way gave a boost to my already-high metabolism (effected by virgin coconut oil) every now and then.

My metabolism was like a digital signal that's amplified at different points of location to ensure the signal doesn't die off.

And then BAM!!! My heart would race like it's going to jump out of my chest. Both my hands started to tremble like I was struck with Parkinson's disease. Feeling hot and flushed and hyperactive, I'd sweat profusely till my back got soaking wet. Losing so much heat gave me the chill right after that. Also, I would toss and turn in bed at night and anxiety kicked in if the bulletproof effect had not worn off by then.

Extremely terrible experience.

Imagine switching virgin coconut oil to MCT oil, the heart-throbbing side effects could have stayed on for 48 hours I guess. MCT oil has more MCTs and digests faster and hence, will give you more energy rush, remember?

The reverse is also true, mind you.

Meaning, you can drink a cup of coffee without MCT oil or virgin coconut oil in the morning. Then you add the oil to your lunch. Unless caffeine in your body has vanished by then, the bulletproof side effect might kick in as soon as the MCFAs in the oil convert and boost metabolism.

In fact, there's one drug several times more powerful than caffeine. If you're on that drug and then you take MCT oil or virgin coconut oil, your metabolism will literally shoot through the roof!

7. Meet 'levothyroxine'

If you're on levothyroxine or other thyroid drugs to help with your underactive thyroid, you need to add MCT oil or virgin coconut oil to your meals with extreme caution.

Besides MCTs, thyroid drug is a metabolism booster too.

If you wish to incorporate MCT oil or virgin coconut oil into your diet, then you need to check with your thyroid doctor on how best to administer the dosage of your thyroid medications in regard to your consumption of the dietary oil.

By the way, what kind of diet are you having?

Make sure it's not the high-fat ketogenic diet. This diet, when mixed with especially MCT oil, can push your heart out of the chest, so to speak.

8. Putting MCT oil in a high-fat ketogenic diet

Many keto-dieters favor MCT oil over virgin coconut oil for its greater amount of caprylic/capric MCFAs. And hence, the capability in revving up metabolism that helps them to burn fat all day long.

A boost in metabolism can break down dietary fats (and body fats) fairly easily and turn them into ketone bodies when your food intake lacks carbohydrate and your body is in urgent need of fuel.

That's not all. Our liver may also make ketone bodies out of a fraction of the MCFAs coming from MCT oil or virgin coconut oil.

That's the beauty of MCFAs. They can transform into ketone bodies without requiring your body to go into ketosis. This means that if you eat a normal diet you'll get some ketone bodies from MCT oil or virgin coconut oil too.

With so much ketone fuel from both the high-fat ketogenic diet and MCT oil, no wonder you're so full of energy.

Bursting with energy is good. But if it gets to the point that makes your heart beat unusually fast, causes brain fog, hot flashes, insomnia and other side effects associated with heart palpitations, then you're better off without that energy boost.

"But MCT oil is giving me the benefits I need. I hate to just give it up."

You don't have to. MCT oil is innocent, as a matter of fact. You should just quit your high-fat ketogenic diet, if you're on it.

I figured ketogenic diet itself is very damaging to health. I've seen many people blindly following this diet for months. And they're constantly suffering from bad breath, headache, smelly armpits and even smelly vagina (for women) etc despite the benefits of fat loss.

It's a myth that everything will return to normal once your body has adapted to ketogenic diet.

Listen up, our body will NEVER adapt to such an unnatural diet. It's simply unsustainable and unsafe. And it's putting tremendous stress on your body.

A true, healthy diet should not produce any adverse reactions, be it short-term or long-term. If something bad crops up after following a diet, it's a super clear signal from your body that it's not feeling fantastic with the diet.

Well, that's my two cents on the high-fat ketogenic diet.

Once you snap out of it, taking MCT oil should not cause all those side effects as mentioned early on, unless you really consume too much of it. Too much of a good thing may not be good though.

However, if you insist on sticking with the diet that makes you stink like a skunk, the only way to allay those side effects is to simply cut down your MCT oil consumption.

9. "Indirect" side effects – Candida die-off symptoms

Are you having nausea, headache, dizziness, fatigue, swollen glands, joint or muscle pain, stomach upset, chills, hives or rashes, or skin breakouts etc after taking MCT oil or virgin coconut oil?

They're likely the signs of Candida die-off, especially if you have a few of them at the same time. People often mistake them as the side effects of taking MCT oil or virgin coconut oil.

Well, the truth is, MCT oil or virgin coconut oil does not directly trigger the symptoms, unlike diarrhea and heart palpitations.

What do I mean?

Both MCT oil and virgin coconut oil have anti-fungal properties that can help eliminate Candida.

When Candida bugs die, they can discharge as much as 80 different toxins. These toxins can get absorbed into your system and cause the die-off symptoms you just saw.

Because of these toxins, you may feel even worse than before consuming the oil.

Virgin coconut oil may kill more yeast due to its high content of lauric acid. Lauric acid is more powerful than caprylic and capric acids in fighting yeast. Which means, your die-off symptoms may appear more severe after consuming virgin coconut oil than taking MCT oil.

If you want to make the Candida die-off symptoms more bearable, you have to reduce your sugar (or carbohydrate) intake.

I know you have sugar cravings and they're not easy to curb. But keep this in mind, sugar cravings are mostly triggered by the yeast, not by your needs. They want you to feed them so they can continue to grow and expand their territories.

Think about this, when the fungi overgrow, they can take down your entire system and give you hell.

So, don't let them have their ways. Starve them by forcefully cutting back on your intake of sugar or carbohydrate. But not to the point of completely eliminating sugar or carb. You still need some to keep you going.

Now, you have less yeast in your gut, consume MCT oil or virgin coconut oil to get rid of them once and for all.

With lesser yeast, you'll have lesser toxins unleashed and hence, lesser die-off symptoms. This translates to having lesser "side effects" from consuming MCT oil or virgin coconut oil.

10. How to gain the benefits, not side effects

Seriously, when you take a closer "look" at these two energy producing oils, they are very innocent. They don't really cause any side effects, unless you use them in the wrong way. For instance,

  1. You swallow them on an empty stomach.
  2. You eat too much of them.
  3. You consume them at night.
  4. You mix them with coffee or tea.
  5. You take them along with thyroid drugs.
  6. You add them to a high-fat ketogenic diet.
  7. You have an overgrowth of Candida yeast in your body.

Avoid particularly point 1, 2 and 3. As for the rest, moderate your consumption and you should be safe and sound, and gain just the benefits without the side effects, like me.


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