Supplementation

MCT Oil on Keto: How to Supercharge Your Diet

Originally posted on HVMN and written by Ryan Rodal on July 19, 2019

If you’re in the keto diet community, you've likely used—or at least heard about—MCT oil. It’s a staple for helping people with satiety and energy while on keto.

But, that buzz is starting to spread beyond just keto. MCT oil is starting to appear in more and more products on the shelves of grocery and health food stores around the country. So maybe you've seen MCT oil out there, but you're not exactly sure of why you should be adding it to your diet, and what the potential benefits are. To understand why MCTs are so powerful, it's important to look at the science behind them.

Table of Contents

What are MCTs?

Types of MCTs

Caproic Acid (C6)

Caprylic Acid (C8)

Capric Acid (C10)

Lauric Acid (C12)

Benefits of MCTs

Improved Energy Through Ketone Production

Helps Promote Weight Loss

Enables Athletes to Burn Fat as Fuel

May Reduce Risk of Heart Disease

May Help Treat Diabetes

Why Use MCTs on Keto?

Ketones 101

Benefits of Ketones

How MCT Oil Increases Ketone Production

Disadvantages of MCT Oil

How to Use MCT Oil on the Keto Diet

Butter Coffee

MCT Smoothies

MCT Salad Dressings

MCT Fat Bombs

Why MCTs Work with Keto

Weight loss and increased energy are just a couple of the positive effects you might experience with MCT oil use. To get a better understanding of MCTs, you have to dive deeper into their chemical makeup, and how they trigger certain biological responses.

Let’s explore what MCTs are, how they work, and how they might be a particularly beneficial addition to a keto diet for improved results. And if you'd like to learn some ways of incorporating MCTs into your diet, be sure to check out our recipes at the bottom of the page.

What are MCTs?

To understand MCTs, let’s start with the basics. MCT stands for medium-chain triglycerides. Triglycerides are three fatty acid groups bound to a glycerol backbone; they’re the main constituents of body fat in humans and animals, and are natural fats found in food.

People tend to have a misconception when it comes to triglycerides—they usually associate triglycerides with bad cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease. There’s some truth to that.

High levels of triglycerides in the blood pose a risk of cardiovascular disease, but not all triglycerides should be viewed negatively.

In fact, some MCTs are considered to be the healthiest fats around.

There are three types of fatty acids: short-chain, medium-chain, and long-chain. The length of the “chain” refers to the number of carbon atoms linked together to form these fatty acids.

  • Short-chain fatty acids (or triglycerides): composed of 0 - 5 carbon atoms

  • Medium-chain fatty acids (or triglycerides): composed of 6 - 12 carbon atoms

  • Long-chain fatty acids (or triglycerides): composed of 13 - 21 carbon atoms

Short-chain fatty acids are not obtained through food, but are actually produced by bacteria in the gut when dietary fiber is fermented. They help reduce inflammation and protect the digestive system.

Long-chain triglycerides can be found in olive oil, fish, nuts, avocado, and meats. Some long-chain triglycerides, such as Omega 3s, provide cardiovascular benefits.

Medium-chain triglycerides can be found in limited amounts in foods such as coconut oil and palm oil.

The distinction between MCTs and other types of fats (and lengths of fatty acid chains) is in how they're processed by the body.

Unlike other fatty acid chain lengths, MCTs are not digested and absorbed in the same way as other fat sources. MCTs go directly from the gut to the liver and can be used as an immediate energy source themselves, or they are quickly converted to ketones. MCTs can be extracted from food sources, such as coconut, and liquified into a pure form of 100% medium-chain triglycerides.

Now that you understand what makes MCTs unique from other types of fats, let’s get into the different types of MCTs.
Types of MCTs

MCTs contain anywhere between six and 12 carbon atoms in the fatty acid chain. It’s a range—and the term MCT covers all the triglycerides that have “medium” length fatty acid chains.

Although they are all considered MCTs, the different chain lengths have slightly different physical properties, metabolism in the body and therefore, different effects and uses. So, depending on your goals, not all MCTs are created equal.

Caproic Acid (C6)

Known as the shortest MCT, caproic acid contains six carbons in each fatty acid chain. Although it can be converted quickly to ketones, it has a bitter taste and may cause stomach problems.

It can be found naturally in plant and animal sources, but generally comes with an unpleasant odor. Some MCT products on the market contain caproic acid, but it’s not the optimal source of MCT to use as a dietary supplement.

Caprylic Acid (C8)

Caprylic acid, or C8, contains eight carbon atoms in each fatty acid chain. Known as the most ketogenic form of MCT, it can provide an array of health benefits because it can be converted to ketones faster than any other form of MCT.1

When it comes to enhancing fat burning and increasing energy levels, C8 is the MCT to choose. Its effect was significantly higher in the absence of an accompanying meal.1 So, taking MCT (C8) while fasted may increase ability to maintain a ketogenic state.

About 6% of C8 occurs naturally in coconut oil, so it makes sense to try and find a more concentrated version of C8 instead of just using coconut oil. While on keto, products with the highest levels of caprylic acid (C8) can help you hit your goals. H.V.M.N.’s MCT Oil powdercontains pure C8 and a gut-friendly prebiotic called acacia fiber. With zero net carbs, it’s a fast way to kickstart ketone production and boost your metabolism.

Some of the benefits of C8 include:

  • Quick energy: when ingested, C8 turns into ketones rapidly.2Enhanced ketone production will help you stay in ketosis. MCTs may also increase mental and clarity and focus because ketones are such a potent brain fuel—they evolved to keep us sharp and functioning at a high level in situations of desperate need (like hunting between big meals)

  • Helps fight infection: in studies performed on animals, researchers added C8 to milk and it helped kill streptococcus, staphylococcus, and E. coli3

  • Reduces gut inflammation: C8 may help aid in digestion by lessening intestinal inflammation4

These are just some of the benefits associated with caprylic acid (C8). As the world’s most ketogenic form of MCT, you should strive to make sure the majority of MCTs in your diet contain C8 to maximize health benefits.

Capric Acid (C10)

Capric acid, or C10, can be found in coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and some forms of animal milks. It provides a few unique benefits in addition to what we’ve already mentioned regarding metabolism:

  • Antifungal properties: one research study concluded C10 destroyed strains of Candida albicans, a yeast causing digestive gut issues5

  • Boosting immunity: a study performed on breastfeeding mothers found nursing infants were able to fight off infections and viruses more effectively when the mother supplemented with C10.6Although the study has not been performed on adults, its reasonable to assume they may experience some of the same benefits

C10 is seen in many MCT products, but it might not be the optimal MCT for ketone production—that’s still C8.1

Lauric Acid (C12)

Lauric acid can most commonly be found in coconut oil, accounting for nearly half of coconut oil’s MCT content. The main benefit associated with lauric acid (C12) is its antimicrobial properties.

Lauric acid helps your body develop monolaurin, a compound responsible for killing pathogens such as measles, herpes simplex, staph, and E. coli.

Besides from the antimicrobial benefits, it can also serve a few other functions, including:

  • Fighting acne: the antimicrobial properties were put to the test in a study performed on people with acne.7 People taking lauric acid in the study found it to be a better form of treatment than benzoyl peroxide, a leading acne fighting ingredient.

  • Treatment for psoriasis: coconut oil (which contains nearly 50% lauric acid) was found to increase hydration and skin elasticity in a 2013 study.8

The topical benefits of lauric acid (C12) possibly make it a viable form of skin treatment in certain circumstances. But again, for purposes of ketone production, stick with C8.

Benefits of MCTs

You know the differences between different MCT chain lengths. Now, let’s look at the benefits of including MCT into your diet.

Improved Energy Through Ketone Production

Not only are MCTs a direct source of energy, they can also help create ketones for brain and body fuel.

MCTs are rapidly digested and absorbed—most fats travel slowly from the gut into the bloodstream, whereas MCTs are directly shuttered to the liver where they can be used for energy for the body or converted into ketones.

While fat can’t be used directly as brain fuel, that’s where the ketone production comes into play. Ketones pass through the blood-brain barrier making them a direct source of energy for the brain as well. This mechanism supports the anecdotal feelings of mental sharpness associated with MCT use and ketosis overall.

Helps Promote Weight Loss

One of the main benefits of MCTs are helping directly or indirectly aid in weight loss. MCT oil can help increase the production of certain hormones—like peptide YY and Leptin—which help you feel full.9 With an increase in fat consumption, you are more likely to feel satisfied for longer and thus, you’ll be less likely to overeat.

A research study showed that when people consumed a breakfast containing MCT oil they ate less food at lunch compared to those who had the same amount of coconut oil.10 This means that MCT, rather than coconut oil, is a better choice if you are looking to use fat to curb your appetite. That’s why many people choose to add MCT oil to their butter coffee in the morning.

MCT oil can also help to assist directly with weight loss through increased energy expenditure.

In one study, individuals taking MCT oil increased their energy expenditure, leading to weight loss.11 These people had a higher resting metabolic rate, so in essence, they were able to consume more calories without gaining weight.

Compared to long-chain fatty acids, MCT consumption resulted in greater fat loss (due to increased energy expenditure and fat oxidation).11 These studies lead researchers to believe MCTs could be used to prevent obesity or stimulate weight loss.

Studies performed on animals also showed MCT oils may result in decreased body fat through improved metabolism and enhanced thermogenesis.12

Enables Athletes to Burn Fat as Fuel

Consuming MCT oil may also boost your athletic endurance. One study showed that taking MCT prior to exercise enabled athletes to work at 80% of their VO2 max for longer when compared to athletes taking LCTs.13

The ingestion of foods containing MCTs may help suppress utilization of carbohydrates for energy production through increased utilization of fatty acids for generating energy. In other words, you replace the energy coming from carbs and glucose with energy coming from fat and ketones to fuel your workout. It takes a while to become fat adapted, but once you’re able to tap into the seemingly endless fat stores in the body, endurance performance may get better.

MCT oils may also impact athletic performance through reduction in lactate buildup due to a shift in balance from carb to fat metabolism. In that study where athletes could exercise for longer, the researchers also found that they had lower lactate levels.13

If you take MCTs prior to exercise, your fat burning capabilities may increase due to a higher resting energy expenditure. Essentially, you burn more fat during your workouts than you may have otherwise, in part because you’re consuming more fat.

May Reduce Risk of Heart Disease

Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most effective ways of lowering the risk of heart disease.

Since MCT oil can help with weight and fat loss, this can in turn lower the incidence of heart disease in some people.

A study was performed on twenty-four healthy overweight men who consumed controlled diets designed to maintain weight over the course of two months.14 These diets contained 40% energy from fat, of which 75% was added fat in the form of an MCT oil based compound (also containing phytosterols and flaxseed oil) or olive oil. Body composition and blood samples were analyzed after each month. The MCT oil-based compound resulted in a ~14% decrease in LDL levels of cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) compared to the control group. Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is crucial to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Poor diet, lack of exercise, and genetic predisposition can cause heart disease, but MCT oil consumption may be a tool capable of supporting heart health.

May Help Treat Diabetes

Building off the other metabolic benefits of MCT, it may be able to help treat individuals with diabetes.

A study was conducted on two groups of overweight type 2 diabetic patients.15 One group was given 18g of MCT and the other was given 18g of LCTs in the form of corn oil over the course of 90 days. The results of the study showed a reduction in body weight, waist circumference, and homeostasis model assessment of insulin in subjects taking MCT oil. No differences were noted in the LCT group. These results suggest MCTs have a positive effect on diabetic-related treatment.

Why Use MCTs on Keto?

While the benefits of MCTs obviously stretch outside of just ketone production, they’ve found a special home among keto diet practitioners.

Ketones 101

What’s so special about ketones?

Before we dive into specifics, let’s talk basics. Ketones are fundamentally different substrates than the carbohydrates or fats your body typically uses to create energy.16 They are produced when your body begins using fat instead of carbohydrates for fuel. Ketones may even be a more efficient source of fuel than glucose; they provide more energy per unit.17

Keto is a low-carb, high-fat diet. So when the body doesn’t have any carbohydrates to rely on for energy, it will begin using the copious fat stores we all carry with us.

The brain’s usual source of energy is carbohydrates. They’re a quick, easily-used fuel. But what about when the brain doesn’t have those carbs to rely on? That’s why we evolved to create ketones, to fuel our brain (ketones cross the blood-brain barrier). In our neanderthal days, we’d go days or weeks without food. Our bodies needed a way to create energy from what we already had—fat.

Once the body is producing ketones, ketosis in considered ketones present in the blood at greater than 0.5mM; when you hear people say they’re in ketosis, this is what they mean.

Ketosis can be achieved in two distinct ways. The first is endogenously, which means through internal mechanisms within the body. By following a low-carb diet and/or fasting, the body will eventually stop running on glucose and begin producing ketones.

However, there’s another way to get into ketosis. Exogenous ketonesare consumed through external means. Using exogenous ketones can raise blood ketones to a physiological level even if you aren’t following a high-fat diet or fasting.

The level of ketosis achieved can vary depending upon the type of supplement used. H.V.M.N. Ketone is a form of exogenous ketones (it’s the world’s first ketone ester drink) used to get into a deeper state of ketosis.18 Its patented technology is designed to deliver pure consumable ketones for sport, cognition, fasting or keto diet support. Ketone salts are another option, but can require a high amount of sodium be ingested to reach desired ketone levels.19

MCT oil has gained substantial traction in recent years as a product shown to enhance ketone production and provide an immediate source of energy, albeit a lesser levels than H.V.M.N. Ketone and salt-based products (because MCTs don’t actually contain ketones themselves).

Benefits of Ketones

Biologically, the body is designed to run on glucose and fat as its main forms of energy; but ketones are a more efficient fuel source when compared to glucose.17 Also, as you get into endogenous ketosis, the body is able to breakdown more and more fat for energy.

There are several evidence-based health benefits seen during a ketogenic diet, including:

  • Losing weight: the most common reason people follow a ketogenic diet is for weight loss reasons.20 By changing your diet, you can help switch your body from a glucose-reliant to running on ketones and fat

  • Managing diabetes: a keto diet may help control symptoms of type I and II diabetes by lowering carbohydrate intake and keeping blood glucose levels under control21

  • Satiation: ketones can improve satiation, leading to less overeating.16 Research suggests a diet high in fat provides satiating benefits not seen with carbohydrates

  • Treatment of certain diseases: the keto diet may help act as supplemental treatment for diseases such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s, and even Alzheimer’s22

  • Lowers rate of inflammation and aging: ketogenic diets have been shown to improve survival, memory, and healthspan in animal studies.23 Future studies may show the same effects could be seen in humans as well

The keto diet has gained popularity for a reason. Not only are the physical benefits sought after, but the mental clarity of ketosis, along with other neurological benefits, have also emerged as some of the main reasons people decide to switch to keto.

How MCT Oil Increases Ketone Production

MCTs go directly to the liver, and it's here where they are converted into ketones through a process called ketogenesis. MCTs can help you stay in ketosis or get to ketosis faster, because they're a healthy source of fat and are less likely to be stored as body fat.24 Longer-chain fatty acids, on the other hand, do not directly enhance ketone production because of how they're metabolized.

MCT oil can be found in coconut oil, palm oil, and even some dairy products. However, these products do not contain 100% pure MCTs. They contain roughly a low percentage of C8 (the most optimal form of MCTs), along with other types of lower-quality fatty acids. In order to optimize the effects of high-quality MCT oil, it must be extracted from other sources into a highly-concentrated, stand alone product.

Disadvantages of MCT Oil

Although MCT oil can provide plenty of health benefits, it can be easy to go overboard on calories if you do not measure serving sizes correctly. Even on a ketogenic diet, you should still be cognizant of your overall caloric intake to avoid overeating.

Taking too much MCT oil can also cause gastrointestinal distress in certain individuals in the form of side effects such as diarrhea, vomiting, bloating, and cramping.

How to Use MCT Oil on the Keto Diet

MCT oils can be incorporated into your diet in a variety of different food and beverage choices.

You can use MCT oil as a cooking oil, smoothie ingredient, or even to create fat bombs. The possibilities are endless, and you can use a bit of creativity when determining how best to use MCT oil in your own diet. While we've discussed MCT oil at length, MCT oil powder is also a viable option for easy mix-ability.

Butter Coffee

One way many people choose to consume MCT oil as part of their diet is by making butter coffee (also called Bulletproof coffee). A unique blend of coffee, MCT oil, and grass-fed butter, butter coffee can provide a boost of energy to help jump start your day.

Traditional Butter Coffee

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. Brew a cup of coffee using your favorite coffee beans

  2. Add coffee, butter, and HVMN MCT Oil Powder into a blender and blend for approximately ten seconds

  3. Pour the finished drink into a mug and enjoy

Drinking butter is an easy way of incorporating MCT oil for a daily energy boost.

MCT Smoothies

If you prefer to get fruits and vegetables through smoothies, why not try adding some MCT oil to your drink?

Fruit MCT Smoothie

Ingredients:

  • ½ frozen banana

  • ½ cup frozen apple

  • ¼ scoop chocolate or vanilla of H.V.M.N. MCT Oil Powder

  • ¾ cup unsweetened almond milk

Add in other fruits and vegetables as desired, to taste.

Instructions:

  1. Combine all ingredients into a blender and mix to desired consistency

  2. Pour, drink, and enjoy

MCT-based smoothies are a satisfying, filling snack that can be made with limited time, and may even be used to replace a meal.

MCT Salad Dressings

If salads are a staple of your diet, you may want to try creating a MCT-based dressing to enjoy your greens and get a boost of healthy fat.

Green Keto Dressing

Ingredients:

  • 1 scoop unflavored H.V.M.N. MCT Oil Powder

  • ¼ cup olive oil

  • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger

  • 2 minced garlic cloves

  • 1 teaspoon mustard

  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt

  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper

Instructions:

  1. Whisk all ingredients together in a large bowl

  2. Pour on top of salad or store in a glass container to use later on

Regularly eating salads is a great way of ensuring you get enough micronutrients in your diet. This recipe will add a dose of healthy fat to your greens.

MCT Fat Bombs

If you are unfamiliar with fat bombs, they are keto friendly snacks designed to curb sugar cravings.

They generally contain ingredients such as oil, butter, nuts, and seeds, designed to satisfy cravings and keeping you full. If you are following a ketogenic diet, but still get a sweet tooth, try making some fat bombs.

Chocolate Delight Fat Bombs

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups macadamia nuts

  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil

  • 1 scoop chocolate H.V.M.N. MCT Oil Powder

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • ⅓ cup monk fruit sweetener

  • ¼ cup cocoa powder

Instructions:

  1. Puree macadamia nuts in a food processor or blender. Add HVMN MCT Oil Powder, coconut oil, and vanilla. Continue blending until a nut butter like consistency is formed

  2. Add cocoa powder and sweetener little by little and continue pureeing until smooth

  3. Grab a muffin pan lined with parchment paper

  4. Pour the batter into each liner until ⅓ of the way filled

  5. Freeze for at least 30 minutes until a solid consistency is formed.

Instead of reaching for the candy bar, try making some fat bombs to get rid of that nagging sweet tooth.

Why MCTs Work with Keto

If you’re on keto, adding MCTs to your diet is almost a no-brainer.

Reducing body fat, improving satiety, and enhancing of ketone production—these are just a few of the potential health benefits of MCTs.

If you are practicing a ketogenic diet and want to get into ketosis faster, MCT is a great way to increase ketone production via healthy fat. Simply using an MCT-based supplement daily may supercharge the metabolic benefits associated with keto. And even if you’re not keto, adding a high-quality source of fat to your diet may help reduce cravings and help you feel fuller for longer throughout the day.

Scientific Citations

1.Vandenberghe, C., St-Pierre, V., Pierotti, T., Fortier, M., Castellano, C.-A., and Cunnane, S.C. (2017). Tricaprylin Alone Increases Plasma Ketone Response More Than Coconut Oil or Other Medium-Chain Triglycerides: An Acute Crossover Study in Healthy Adults. Current Developments in Nutrition 1.

2.Page, K.A., Williamson, A., Yu, N., McNay, E.C., Dzuira, J., McCrimmon, R.J., and Sherwin, R.S. (2009). Medium-chain fatty acids improve cognitive function in intensively treated type 1 diabetic patients and support in vitro synaptic transmission during acute hypoglycemia. Diabetes 58, 1237-44.

3.Nair NKM, Joy J, Vasudevan P. Antibacterial Effect of Caprylic Acid and Monocaprylin on Major Bacterial Mastitis Pathogens. Journal of Dairy Science. 2005;88(10):3488-3495. doi.org/10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(05)73033-2.

4.Hoshimoto A, Suzuki Y, Katsuno T, Nakajima H, Saito Y. Caprylic acid and medium-chain triglycerides inhibit IL-8 gene transcription in Caco-2 cells: comparison with the potent histone deacetylase inhibitor trichostatin A. Br J Pharmacol. 2002;136(2):280-6.

5.Bergsson G, Arnfinnsson J, Steingrímsson o, Thormar H. In vitro killing of Candida albicans by fatty acids and monoglycerides. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2001;45(11):3209-12.

6.Francois CA, Connor SL, Wander RC, Connor WE. Acute effects of dietary fatty acids on the fatty acids of human milk. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;67(2):301-8.

7.Nakatsuji T, Kao MC, Fang JY, et al. Antimicrobial property of lauric acid against Propionibacterium acnes: its therapeutic potential for inflammatory acne vulgaris. J Invest Dermatol. 2009;129(10):2480-8.

8.Aziz, Azila & Sarmidi, Mohamad & Aziz, R & mohamed noor, Norhayati. (2013). The Effect of Virgin Coconut Oil Loaded Solid Lipid Particles (VCO-SLPs) on Skin Hydration and Skin Elasticity. Jurnal Teknologi. 62. 39-43.

9.St-onge MP, Mayrsohn B, O'keeffe M, Kissileff HR, Choudhury AR, Laferrère B. Impact of medium and long chain triglycerides consumption on appetite and food intake in overweight men. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2014;68(10):1134-40.

10.Kinsella R, Maher T, Clegg ME. Coconut oil has less satiating properties than medium chain triglyceride oil. Physiol Behav. 2017;179:422-426.

11.St-onge MP, Jones PJ. Greater rise in fat oxidation with medium-chain triglyceride consumption relative to long-chain triglyceride is associated with lower initial body weight and greater loss of subcutaneous adipose tissue. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2003;27(12):1565-71.

12.Baba N, Bracco EF, Hashim SA. Enhanced thermogenesis and diminished deposition of fat in response to overfeeding with diet containing medium chain triglyceride. Am J Clin Nutr. 1982;35(4):678-82.

13.Nosaka N, Suzuki Y, Nagatoishi A, Kasai M, Wu J, Taguchi M. Effect of ingestion of medium-chain triacylglycerols on moderate- and high-intensity exercise in recreational athletes. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol. 2009;55(2):120-5.

14.St-onge MP, Lamarche B, Mauger JF, Jones PJ. Consumption of a functional oil rich in phytosterols and medium-chain triglyceride oil improves plasma lipid profiles in men. J Nutr. 2003;133(6):1815-20.

15.Han JR, Deng B, Sun J, et al. Effects of dietary medium-chain triglyceride on weight loss and insulin sensitivity in a group of moderately overweight free-living type 2 diabetic Chinese subjects. Metab Clin Exp. 2007;56(7):985-91.

16.Gibson, A.A., Seimon, R.V., Lee, C.M., Ayre, J., Franklin, J., Markovic, T.P., Caterson, I.D., and Sainsbury, A. (2015). Do ketogenic diets really suppress appetite? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes. Rev. 16, 64-76.

17.Prince A, Zhang Y, Croniger C, Puchowicz M. Oxidative metabolism: glucose versus ketones. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2013;789:323-328.

18.Cox, P.J., Kirk, T., Ashmore, T., Willerton, K., Evans, R., Smith, A., Murray, Andrew J., Stubbs, B., West, J., McLure, Stewart W., et al. (2016). Nutritional Ketosis Alters Fuel Preference and Thereby Endurance Performance in Athletes. Cell Metabolism 24, 1-13.

19.Evans M, Patchett E, Nally R, Kearns R, Larney M, Egan B. Effect of acute ingestion of β-hydroxybutyrate salts on the response to graded exercise in trained cyclists. Eur J Sport Sci. 2018:1-11.

20.Westman EC, Feinman RD, Mavropoulos JC, et al. Low-carbohydrate nutrition and metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;86(2):276-84.

21.Feinman, R.D., Pogozelski, W.K., Astrup, A., Bernstein, R.K., Fine, E.J., Westman, E.C., Accurso, A., Frassetto, L., Gower, B.A., McFarlane, S.I., et al. (2015). Dietary carbohydrate restriction as the first approach in diabetes management: critical review and evidence base. Nutrition 31, 1-13.

22.Barañano KW, Hartman AL. The ketogenic diet: uses in epilepsy and other neurologic illnesses. Curr Treat Options Neurol. 2008;10(6):410-9.

23.Ketogenic Diet Reduces Midlife Mortality and Improves Memory in Aging Mice Newman, John C. et al. Cell Metabolism , Volume 26 , Issue 3 , 547 - 557.e8

24.Takeuchi H, Sekine S, Kojima K, Aoyama T. The application of medium-chain fatty acids: edible oil with a suppressing effect on body fat accumulation. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008;17 Suppl 1:320-3.

Bacopa Monnieri: Memory Boosting Herb For Anxiety

Originally published on HVMN by  Jamie Witherby

You’re in the waiting room of the dentist’s office, nervously tapping your foot on the patterned carpet and grinding your teeth until they finally call your name. You didn’t floss enough. You didn’t take care of that molar sensitivity when it first popped up three months ago. And you definitely didn’t schedule this cleaning a prompt six months after the last one. In short, you’re anxious.

Stress comes in many forms, and paths to relief are equally varied. Between the dizzying sound of the drill, you notice a fish tank: bubbles from the filter, fish floating through plastic pirate ships, swaying underwater plants. Interestingly, the simple sight of a fish tank can be a form of stress relief (maybe that’s why so many doctors’ and dentists’ offices have them). Hypnotic aquatic environments can lower your blood pressure and produce a state of relaxation.1 But if you really need extra tension relief, you may be better off reaching into the tank, pulling out the greenery, and feeding it through your chattering teeth.

Table of Contents

Bacopa Background

Bacopa: The Herb of Many Names

Bacopa Monnieri Mental Benefits

The Herb You Can’t Forget

Paying Attention

Anxiety and Stress

Depression

Bacopa Monnieri Physical Benefits

Radical Agent: Bacopa as an Antioxidant

Treat Yourself: Bacopa as Anti-inflammatory

Epilepsy: Bacopa Beginnings

Supplementing with Bacopa Monnieri

Testing Your Memory



Bacopa monnieri (buh-COH-puh moh-nee-AIR-ee) is an aquatic creeping perennial plant commonly sold to decorate fish tanks; but it can be used for much more than just underwater interior design. It can have a significant effect on cognitive function.


Let’s discuss how this powerful little plant can reduce anxiety and depression while enhancing memory and attention.


Bacopa Background

Before diving into the benefits, it’s best to know a bit more about why this herb has been used in medicine for centuries.

Bacopa: The Herb of Many Names

Native to the lush wetlands of South Asia, East Asia, and Australia, Bacopa monnieri has been an essential herb in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. It joins a family of common medicines, Rasayanas, known for their youthful and rejuvenating enhancements, which is why they’ve primarily been prescribed to the elderly community.2


However, Bacopa monnieri is also part of the coveted Medhya Rasayana group along with another notorious nootropic, Ashwagandha. The prefix, “medha”, means “mind.” Thus, Medhya Rasayanas are prescribed to people of all age groups needing a mental boost. The list ranges from those recovering old memories to those recovering from brain injuries.2

Ayurvedic physicians in India have used Bacopa monnieri in combination with other herbs to treat conditions of the mind, such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, and dementia. The herb has also been used for inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis and ulcers.3,4,5

Bacopa monnieri goes by many names. If you’re buying it in a shop, you can ask for the classic carpeting varieties: moneywort or water hyssop. If you're researching its extracts, search for bacosides. If you’re talking to an Ayurvedic physician about it, try asking about Brahmi—a nickname based on the Hindu creator god, Brahma. Or if you're looking for the form of Bacopa monnieri extract, try changing a single letter: Bacopa monniera.


You won’t have to remember all those names to get through this article. But if you wanted to, you should consider taking a dose of Bacopa monnieri to help.

Your guide to nootropics

Subscribe for all the latest content on nootropics and supplements.

Bacopa Monnieri Mental Benefits

From memory to anxiety, supplementing with Bacopa monnieri can be a powerful tool for the mind.

The Herb You Can’t Forget

It’ll take more than just a single dose to feel the full effects, but research has shown that regularly taking Bacopa monnieri for eight to twelve weeks can improve your memory.6,7,8,9,10

Human studies have found that supplementing with Bacopa monnieri can greatly increase your chances of acquiring and remembering new information.10,9 A 2001 double-blind study on healthy adults found that subjects increased their learning rates after Bacopa monnieri supplementation. While the results were evident in as little as five weeks, the most significant improvements were noted after the full twelve-week course.9

Not only was the information acquired more easily, but it was accessed from long-term memory more effortlessly.

A 2002 study echoed these findings after testing Brahmi’s memory capabilities in middle-aged adults.

Testing showed that Brahmi had significant effects on decreasing the rate of forgetting newly acquired information.10

Even after experiencing short delays to refocus the mind on other tasks, participants of all ages were able to recall new information more readily and fully after supplementing with Bacopa monnieri, including verbal processing.10 A 2012 meta-analyses of six memory intervention studies found that Bacopa monnieri can improve free memory recall.8 Imagine being able to actually remember the name of the road your maps app told you to take before your phone died. Or even just the name of that really cool plant you saw in a nature documentary last night. It could have been Bacopa monnieri.

Elderly participants even found Bacopa monnieri to be a very effective treatment for the unavoidable age-associated memory impairment (AAMI), enjoying increased memory procurement and retention.11,12 Grandma probably won’t stop confusing you with your sibling by taking Bacopa monnieri, but she will be more likely to remember the details of your life over time.

Commit this to memory: Bacopa monnieri can help the process of converting your short-term memories into long-term memories, known as memory consolidation.13

Every time you studied for a test, you engaged in this process. There’s a reason cramming the night before isn’t as efficient as studying over the period of a couple weeks. Your brain hasn’t had a chance to repeatedly fire this information on a pathway in your brain. The more frequently you study something, the stronger the pathways between the synapses in your brain become. That’s why mnemonic devices and other repetitive practices are suggested to help you rapidly store facts and figures. When it’s test time, strong pathways will allow you to more readily access information as needed.14

If you’re ready to spice up your daily routine a little, try testing your spatial memory in your current environment. Take a mental picture of your surroundings, close your eyes, and challenge yourself with questions: how many plants are on the window sill? What color is the book on the end table? Are the stripes on the area rug running vertically or horizontally? Then, open your eyes and see how you did. Supplementing with Bacopa monnieri could drastically improve your spotting skills because it boosts your spatial working memory. Working memory is about as straightforward as it sounds—it’s the part of your short term memory working to immediately process information. Add the spatial component, and you get an enhanced ability to remember things inhabiting space around you.6

Paying Attention

We can train many parts of our bodies, but Bacopa monnieri can help us focus on a soft spot: our eyeballs. Evidence supports that this herb can improve rapid visual information processing and speed of information processing.7 Translation? You can concentrate on what you’re seeing and comprehend it more quickly.

If faster processing didn’t get your attention, this will: elderly subjects also performed better on the infamous Stroop Test when taking the plant extract.7,15 You may have taken this tricky test yourself at some point. In it, participants are required to say the color of a word rather than reading the word itself. Easy, right? But all the words are colors…and the word does not match its hue. For instance, if the word "BLUE" is boldly scrawled in the color red, the subject should say ‘red.’ The test was developed to convey that embedded information about our environment strongly influences how we interact with it.

Doing well on the Stroop test assesses a few key things: cognitive processing speed, cognitive control, and attentional capacity, all of which were improved with Bacopa monnieri as an aide.15,7

These promising improvements are in line with the traditional Ayurvedic uses for the plant, further demonstrating why it’s been used as a memory aid for such a long time.

If you’ve been missing out on your memory’s potential, HVMN paired Bacopa monnieri with calming Ashwagandha and defensive Citicholine in Rise. Rise is a nootropic stack for long-term health benefits, including increased memory, adapting to chronic stress in order to reduce it, and building cognitive resiliency. The only thing you have to remember is to take two pills every day. In as little as two weeks of consistent supplementation, you could begin to see an increase in memory, stamina, and cognitive task efficiency.8,9,16

Anxiety and Stress

From the start, you were hooked with the promise of this plant being able to reduce anxiety. Like your hand in the fish tank, let’s dive right in.

In patients with anxiety, Bacopa monnieri had an anxiolytic effect, simply meaning an anti-anxiety effect. Participants in clinical trials experienced reduced heart rates and anxiety levels.15 These physiological effects point to the adaptogen potential of Bacopa monnieri.17Note the word “adapt” nestled inside. Adaptogens are classified by their abilities to help us adapt to stress by normalizing the body’s physiological responses to them.

But the criteria for being labeled an adaptogen are rather strict. The herb must not only be able to assist the body in coping with stress but also decrease stress-induced damage and produce beneficial effects over time.18 The kicker? Adaptogens must be devoid of significant negative side effects.

One of Bacopa monnieri’s adaptogenic effects is cortisol reduction.19 Although cortisol is the infamous “stress hormone,” it’s responsible for numerous processes—many of them beneficial. Cortisol is made in the adrenal glands and released into the bloodstream to transport it all over your body. Most of our cells contain cortisol receptors, which allows cortisol to have different effects depending on which cells it acts upon. The hormone can manage blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, and influence blood pressure. Our cortisol levels are constantly fluctuating, but they generally cycle in a sensical way for a steroidal hormone, like being higher when we first wake up. Don’t worry if you’re not eager to jump out of bed every morning, though; cortisol doesn’t quite have the same vigor as caffeine.

When we feel stressed, we release cortisol to help us respond appropriately to the situation.

Fight-or-flight response, anyone? This reaction is very important for our survival. But we aren’t really supposed to engage this response over a long period of time, and elevated cortisol levels from chronic stress can negatively impact your body’s systems. On the minor side, you may suffer from digestive distress, such as diarrhea or constipation.20 Muscle tension could lead to daily soreness, headaches, or even migraines.21 On the major end, you could experience higher blood pressure, which is associated with an increased risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease.22

In a 2013 study examining the anxiolytic effects of Bacopa monnieri supplementation, human subjects dosing with 640mg of the herb experienced a significant reduction in cortisol levels in as little as two hours after taking it.19

Depression

Bacopa monnieri’s calming effect may also be attributed to its modulation of serotonin levels, which Bacopa monnieri has been shown to regulate.9,15 Serotonin is the targeted neurotransmitter for the most successful antidepressive agents: the selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (or SSRIs).

Antidepressants also often increase the availability of dopamine in synapses, which is another neurotransmitter involved in regulating mood and motivation. Both dopamine and serotonin levels can decline with age, but Bacopa monnieri may be able to mitigate this decline by protecting dopaminergic neurons from death.23

In animal models, bacosides isolated from the Bacopa monnieri plant exhibited antidepressive effects.24 Better yet, human subjects reported a significant improvement in depression symptoms after supplementing with Bacopa monnieri for a twelve-week period.15

Bacopa Monnieri Physical Benefits

We can’t just let the brain have all the fun. Bacopa monnieri is a strong fighter for the body as well.

Radical Agent: Bacopa as an Antioxidant

Twelve weeks may seem like a long time, but Bacopa monnieri does its best work when given ample time to shine. Remember that in order for Bacopa monnieri to be classified as an adaptogen, it must be able to decrease stress-induced damage and produce beneficial effects over time. If you’re patient, it will react like an antioxidant in your system.25

Joining the ranks of other common antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, Bacopa monnieri can help remove free radicals such as nitric oxide from your system. Free radicals are unstable molecules missing an electron, which they attempt to take from our lipid membranes (known as lipid peroxidation). Over time, lipid peroxidation can cause tissue and muscle damage and contribute to a scary list of diseases: diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.25

Treat Yourself: Bacopa as Anti-inflammatory

If one disease-reducing quality wasn’t enough, here’s another.

In vivo studies on rats found that Bacopa extracts inhibit the release of cytokines and enzymes associated with inflammation in the brain, leading to an overall reduction in inflammation of the central nervous system (CNS).3,5

A 2016 study on the effects of Bacopa on signaling enzymes and inflammatory markers found that Bacopa monnieri targeted specific inflammatory mediators found in the central nervous system and the periphery that are linked to arthritis and neuroinflammation.3Similarly, a 2011 in vivo study found that the isolated bacosides prevented age-dependent elevation of pro-inflammatory markers in the aged cortex.4

While this doesn’t imply that Bacopa monnieri reduces aging, it does encourage further research into using the herb to reduce systemic inflammation.

This is especially promising because reducing inflammation can assist with the treatment of serious CNS disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and multiple sclerosis.3,5

Epilepsy: Bacopa Beginnings

While the research on Bacopa monnieri’s effects in individuals with epilepsy is in its infancy, the herb’s mechanisms are promising.

Epilepsy is a neuronal disorder often characterized by memory and learning impairments.26Frequent recurrent seizures can adversely affect cognition and contribute to brain injuries associated with cognitive degradation. For genetic epilepsies, the mechanisms of seizure activity are actually quite similar to the mechanisms of cognitive impairment.26 These mechanisms appear to occur as a result of abnormal signaling patterns, which result in modified synaptic function and hyperexcitability. Don’t get too excited—normal cognitive function requires a stable balance of excitatory and inhibitory drive.27

In epileptic animal models, Bacopa monnieri treatment significantly reversed the down-regulation of essential gene expression during seizure activity. In other words, neuronal cell receptors appeared to function normally again.28

Bacopa monnieri’s effects on epilepsy behavioral deficits were also researched in 2010. Because the herb has been tested for its antioxidant, anticonvulsant, and cognition improving properties, the authors posit that it may be a beneficial herbal medicine for ameliorating the neuronal deficits associated with frequent seizure activity.29

Supplementing with Bacopa Monnieri

Daily doses range from 200mg - 400mg of the standardized extract with no major adverse effects reported. Minor side effects include diarrhea, nausea, and an upset stomach. The extract is also not known for having the most pleasant flavor.

Bacopa monnieri is generally considered safe to pair with other medications and supplements.11

Remember: Bacopa monnieri is most effective after being used consistently for an eight to twelve week period. With its hefty list of benefits, this is one herb that’s worth the wait.

Testing Your Memory

Whether you need to train your brain to process new information more quickly or train your body to process new movements more gracefully, adding Bacopa monnieri to the mix can help you achieve your memory goals and boost cognitive function.

You may not have started supplementing yet, but try to see how many of Bacopa monnieri’s benefits you’re able to remember on your own:

  • Increased memory acquisition and retention

  • Defense against age-associated memory impairment

  • Increased verbal processing

  • Increased rapid visual information processing

  • Increased spatial working memory

  • Increased memory consolidation

  • Defense against lipid peroxidation

  • Reduced inflammation in the central nervous system

  • Reduced heart rate

  • Decreased anxiety

  • Decreased depression

  • Potential for those with epilepsy and seizure activity

Bacopa monnieri's cognitive enhancement and protective effects won’t get you out of going to the dentist. But it could help you remember to floss and keep you calm while the dental hygienist does it for you anyway.

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