Upgraded MCT Oil vs Upgraded Brain Octane

Upgraded MCT vs Upgraded Brain Octane

Upgraded MCT Oil vs Upgraded Brain Octane

If you want to read a little more about why I’m even addressing this question, you can check out my rough draft version of this post here.  Essentially it’s this:

  • Upgraded MCT Oil is marketed as being more beneficial for stimulating metabolism while somewhat helping with brain function and is 100% Capric-Caprylic acid (says so right on the front of the bottle, I will explain what these are later).

Upgraded MCT

  • Upgraded Brain Octane is marketed as being primarily for improving brain function.  The main difference from MCT Oil being that this is 100% C-8 (says so right on the front of the bottle, I will explain what C-8 is later).

Upgraded Brain Octane

I wanted to know why.  If these are both essentially MCTs which we know are broken down into ketones which are then metabolized by both the brain and the body, why would one be more advantageous than the other?

Come along for the ride if you want to know the answer…

What are MCTs?

Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) are molecules composed of 6 – 12 carbon length fatty acids attached to a glycerol molecule.

Once the fatty acids are detached from the glycerol, they are called medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs).

Caprylic acid is an 8-carbon chain (C8) fatty acid that is also known as octanoic acid.

Capric acid is a 10-carbon chain (C10) fatty acid that is also known is decanoic acid.

The typical MCT mixture is made of a majority of C8 and C10 with the ratios as follows (1):

  • C6: 1-2%
  • C8: 65-75%
  • C10: 25-35%
  • C12: 1-2%

MCT Absorption

I won’t go too far into the details here, but MCTs are absorbed by the intestines, broken down into MCFAs, and processed by the liver much faster (2) than longer chain fats because of their small size and the fact that they can bypass certain rate limiting enzymatic steps that long chain fats can’t (3)

Once they get to the liver they are broken down into Acetyl-CoA which can then do a few things:

  1. Krebs Cycle – Provide direct energy for the cell
  2. Ketogenesis – Converted into ketones and then sent out into the blood stream.
  3. Elongation of fatty acids – Adding more energy to fats the liver is making for the body
  4. De novo synthesis of fatty acids – Making brand new fats for the body

Option 2 accounts for the majority of the action and that is where we get ketones from when MCT oils are ingested.

These ketones go out into the body where they provide quick and efficient energy for our brain, heart and other tissues.

So when the descriptions say that these are a fast source of fuel, it’s a fact.

Just to reiterate, both C8 and C10 get broken down into the same molecule, Acetyl-CoA, which is then converted into ketones.  It’s these ketones that have been shown to help with weight loss by stimulating the metabolism and by suppressing appetite, among other things.

So at this point, there is no real difference between C8 or C10, they are both good for the metabolism.

Direct Passage of MCFAs into the Blood

Now here is where things become very interesting.  Once MCTs are broken down into their component MCFAs, octanoic acid and decanoic acid, a small amount of these can bypass the liver without being processed and spread throughout the body (4-7).

MCFAs and the Blood Brain Barrier

Once octanoic acid and decanoic acid reach the brain, both of them can pass through the blood brain barrier (8-12).

Again, at this point, nothing is different between C8 and C10.

C8 vs C10 aka Octanoic Acid vs Decanoic Acid aka Caprylic Acid vs Capric Acid

This is the step where we can actually address the question of whether or not one is better for the brain.

Seizure Control

In one of the most cited papers, Sills et al examined the role of octanoic and decanoic acids in controlling seizures in pediatric patients (13).  After giving an adding MCT oil do their diet (81% C8 and 15% C10), she found that seizures were much better controlled, and they were able to detect blood levels of both C8 and C10.  They also found that there was a much greater concentration of C8 in the blood compared to C10 (it was never mentioned that this was supposed to happen given the concentrations found in the MCT oil they administered).

This was the study that kicked off all the other studies exploring the benefits of MCT oil and seizures using octanoic acid as the blood marker that was followed.  The scientific community surmised that since C8 was the majority component of MCT oil, it must also be the reason for all the benefits seen with MCT oils as well.  There were numerous studies thus focused on the effects of C8 on seizures (14, 22).

It was only recently that more data as started coming out suggesting that C8 (15, 16, 17) is actually ineffective in controlling seizures, and that C10 is the main player (18).

A very recently published paper by Hughes et al this January explored the effect of C8 and C10 on the mitochondria of neurons (19) because some believe that mitochondrial dysfunction plays a significant role in seizures (20).  In this experiment, they exposed the neurons of mice to varying concentrations of C8 : C10

  • 40 : 60
  • 20 : 80
  • 10 : 90
  • 0 : 100

They found that in the concentrations that were 100% C10 and 90% C10 to 10% C8 there was an increase in mitochondrial activity and number.  This led them to suspect that it was in fact the C10 that was the primary player in reducing seizure activity.

So at least in terms of seizure control, it’s starting to look like C10 aka capric acid, is the main factor when taking MCTs.

How much this translates into the benefit of ‘improved brain function,’ I’m not sure…

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

Again touching upon the theory that mitochondrial dysfunction is at the root of a neurologic process, in 2013 Zhao et al examined the benefits of C8 as a treatment for ALS in mice (21).  In mice treated with C8, they found that there was a significantly higher number of neurons in the spinal cord, meaning that C8 helped prevent the typical destruction of neurons that were seen with the control mice.

If this panned out to be apply to humans as well it would be huge!

I looked into the C8 that they used for their study and it was obtained here.  As you can see, this pharmaceutical grade caprylic acid is going for $350 per liter, which makes the Upgraded Brain Octane (32oz) being sold for $45.95 seem like a total bargain!

Given the findings with seizures, I would be very interested to see the effect 100% C10 would have on the ALS.

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)

Just released this year, Sharma et al explore the use of a proprietary MCT oil blend called Axona on the treatment of Alzheimer’s (23).  The most I can find on Axona is that “the largest ingredient…is caprylic acid,” so who knows what the concentration is.

The thinking behind the benefits of MCTs in AD is that in AD patients there are reports suggesting that brain glucose metabolism is slowed which can have a bad effect on the hippocampus, the area responsible for memory.  Scientists have hypothesized that providing an increased energy supply to the brain via ketones can have a beneficial effect.

Unfortunately, what they found in their review of clinical trials was that MCTs mildly improved cognition in a particular subset of patients: those that were apolipoprotein E4-negative genotype.

So at least in terms of Alzheimer’s disease, MCTs are somewhat beneficial in a specific subset, and we have no idea whether it is the C8 or C10 or both that provides the benefit.

Cognition in Hypoglycemic Type 1 Diabetics

This was a very interesting study most closely answering the question of whether MCTs are good for improving brain function or not.

Page et al administered MCTs (67% C8, 27% C10, and 6% other) to type 1 diabetics who underwent a barrage of cognitive function tests while they had normal blood sugars.

They then induced hypoglycemia and performed the cognitive tests again.  During this phase, the experimental group received MCTs while the control group received a placebo.

Normally people who are hypoglycemic will demonstrate a decline in cognitive function, ie it will be harder for them to focus and pay attention, they won’t be able to remember things as well, it will be more difficult performing higher level calculations etc.

The scientists wanted to determine if MCTs could provide an alternative fuel source during hypoglycemic episodes (24), thereby preventing a decline in cognitive function.

They found that MCT ingestion significantly prevented the expected decline in memory and attention during hypoglycemia.

In the same study they also tried to determine if it was the ketones (Beta hydroxybutyrate) or the MCFA octanoic acid itself that preserved brain function in mice brains, and found that it was in fact the ketones that were responsible for that benefit.  Octanoic acid (C8) by itself didn’t improve brain function.

Unfortunately they didn’t measure the effect of decanoic acid (C10) despite the fact that it constituted 27% of their MCT solution.

So again, here we know that ketones are good for the brain and MCTs consisting of both C8 and C10 are good for the brain, but no clear answer for C8 vs C10.

CONCLUSION: Upgraded MCT Oil vs Upgraded Brain Octane

MCTs are good for the brain because they provide direct and indirect sources of energy for the brain:

  • Direct – The fatty acids themselves, C8 and C10 (caprylic and capric aka octanoic vs decanoic acid) can be metabolized by the brain.
  • Indirect – MCTs (both C8 and C10) are broken down into ketones, which can then be metabolized by the brain.

After reading this I hope you will come to the same conclusions that I have:

  • Both Upgraded MCT Oil and Upgrade Brain Octane are good for stimulating the metabolism
    • Both are broken down into the same molecule, Acetyl-CoA, which is then used to make ketones, which stimulate the metabolism and suppress appetite.
  • Both Upgraded MCT Oil and Upgraded Brain Octane provide ketones which are good for the brain
  • There isn’t enough data out there to indicate whether Upgraded Brain Octane is actually better for cognitive function.  What we DO have data for is:
    • C10 is actually more important in seizure prevention than C8, so if you have seizures, Upgraded MCT Oil will be better for you.
    • C8 is better than nothing in preserving spinal neurons in mice with ALS, so if you have ALS or any other neuro-degenerative disorder Upgraded Brain Octane MAY be better for you.  No one has looked into the effects of different ratios of C8 : C10.
    • MCTs are mildly helpful if you have Alzheimer’s and have the Apolipoprotein E4 (-) genotype, however we don’t know which would be better for you, Upgraded Brain Octane or Upgraded MCT Oil since we don’t know what the hell the breakdown of Axona is.
    • MCTs are great if you are prone to hypoglycemia, so if you are prone to hypoglycemic episodes, Upgraded MCT Oil is what you should take since it most closely resembles the solution used in this study.

What Will I Be Doing?

I’ve personally used both Upgraded MCT ($29.95) and Upgraded Brain Octane ($45.95) and haven’t noticed a difference, so given the price differential and the current data available, I’m probably just going to stick with Upgraded MCT Oil from now on.

Upgraded MCT and Brain octane

My current stash at home!

RESOURCES

I’ve done my best to include all the relevant research available.  I’ve personally read through each of these studies and have provided the pubmed links below.  Some articles will be available in their entirety for free, others will require a membership or payment.  Since I have some academic affiliations, I was able to get access to all of the full articles.

(1) Bach AC and Babyan VK. Medium-chain triglycerides: an update.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 36: November 1982: 950-962

(2) Iber F.  Relative rates of metabolism MCT, LCT and ethanol in man.  In Kaunitz H. Lang K, Fekl W, eds. Mittelkettige Triglycerde in der Diat. Z Ernahrungswiss 1974;17(suppl):9-16.

(3) Bremer J. The role of carnitine in intracellular metabolism. J Clin Chem Clin Biochem. 1990 May;28(5):297-301.

(4) Linscheer WG, Castell DO, Platt RR. A new method for evaluation of portosystemic shunting.  The rectal octanoate tolerance test. Gastroenterology 1969;57:415-23.

(5) Linscheer WG, Patterson JF, Moore EW. Medium and long chain fat absorption in patients with cirrhosis. J Clin Invest. 1966 Aug;45(8):1317-25.

(6) Sills, MA, Forsythe WI, Haidukewych D. Role of octanoic and decanoic acids in the control of seizures. Arch Dis Child. 1986 Dec;61(12):1173-7.

(7) Haidukewych D, Forsythe WI, Sills M. Monitoring octanoic and decanoic acids in plasma from children with intractable epilepsy treated with medium-chain triglyceride diet. Clin Chem. 1982 Apri;28(4pt1):642-5.

(8) Dean HG, Bonser JC, Gent JP. HPLC analysis of brain and plasma for octanoic and decanoic acids.  Clin Chem. 1989 Sep;35(9):1945-8.

(9) Perlman BJ, Goldstein DB. Membrane-disordering potency and anticonvulsant action of valproic acid and other short-chain fatty acids. Mol Pharmacol. 1984 Jul;26(1):83-9.

(10) Spector R. Fatty acid transport through the blood-brain barrier. J Neurochem. 1988 Feb;50(2):639-43.

(11) Kuge Y, Yajima K, Kawashima H, et al. Brain uptake and metabolism of [1-11C]octanoate in rats: pharmacokinetic basis for its application as a radiopharmaceutical for studying brain fatty acid metabolism. Ann Nucl Med. 1995 Aug:9(3):137-42.

(12) Ebert D, Haller RG, Walton ME. Energy contribution of octanoate to intact rat brain metabolism measured by 13C nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. J Neurosci. 2003 Jul 2;23(13):5928-35.

(13) Sills, MA, Forsythe WI, Haidukewych D. Role of octanoic and decanoic acids in the control of seizures. Arch Dis Child. 1986 Dec;61(12):1173-7.

(14) Wlaz P, Socala K, Nieoczym D et al. Anticonvulsant profile of caprylic acid, a main constituent of the medium chain triglyceride (MCT) ketogenic diet, in mice. Neuropharmacology. 2012 Mar;62(4):1882-9.

(15) Brill J, Lee M, Zhao S, et al. Chronic valproic acid treatment triggers increased neuropeptide y expression and signaling in rat nucleus reticularis thalami. J Neurosci. 2006 Jun 21;26(25):6813-22.

(16) Hou X, Wang X, Zhang L. Conditional downregulation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor and tyrosine kinase receptor B blocks epileptogenesis in the human temporal lobe epilepsy hippocampus. Neurol India. 2010 Jan-Feb;58(1):29-34.

(17) Liu MJ, Pollack GM. Pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of valproate analogues in rats. IV. Anticonvulsant action and neurotoxicity of octanoic acid, cyclohexanecarboxylic acid, and 1-methyl-1-cyclohexanecarboxylic acid. Epilepsia. 1994 Jan-Feb;35(1):234-43.

(18) Chang P, Terbach N, Plant N et al. Seizure control by ketogenic diet-associated medium chain fatty acids. Neuropharmacology. 2013 Jun;69:105-14 [Epub 2012 Nov 20].

(19) Hughes SD, Kanabus M, Anderson G et al. The ketogenic diet component decanoic acid increases mitochondrial citrate synthase and complex I activity in neuronal cells. J Neurochem. 2014 Jan 3. Doi:10.1111/jnc.12646. [Epub ahead of print]

(20) Rho JM, Sankar R. The ketogenic diet in a pill: is this possible? Epilepsia. 2008 Nov;49 Suppl 8:127-33.

(21) Zhao W, Varghese M, Vempati P et al. Caprylic triglyceride as a novel therapeutic approach to effectively improve the performance and attenuate the symptoms due to the motor neuron loss in ALS disease. PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e49191.

(22) Azzam R, Azar NJ. Marked Seizure Reduction after MCT Supplementation. Case Rep Neurol Med. 2013:2013:809151.

(23) Sharma A, Bemis M, Desilets AR. Role of Medium Chain Triglycerides (Axona(R)) in the Treatment of Mild to Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease. Am J Alzheimers Dis Other Demen. 2014 Jan 9 [Epub ahead of print].

(24) Page KA, Williamson A, Yu N, et al. Medium-chain fatty acids improve cognitive function in intensively treated type 1 diabetic patients and support in vitro synaptic transmission during acute hypoglycemia. Diabetes. 2009 May;58(5):1237-44.

20 Responses to Upgraded MCT Oil vs Upgraded Brain Octane

  1. “so given the price differential and the current data available…”

    32 ounces of coconut oil can be had for less than $20 and the only major difference is more C12 (laurate). Did you come across anything which suggested laurate (or coconut oil) is less efficacious than MCT oil? Seems like a bargain to me.

    Not that this really matters to the issues you raised here, but for what it’s worth, laurate also boosts HDL (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12716665).

    • BJJ Caveman says:

      Thanks for bringing up this point. This is the main difference between coconut oil and mcts:

      Coconut oil composition:
      C8: 5-9%
      C10: 6-10%
      C10 (hexoic, I’m not sure how this is different than capric acid): 0.8%
      C12 (lauric acid aka dodecanoic acid): 44-52%
      C14 and longer: 13-42%

      So as you can see, one of the main differences is the higher percentage of long chain fatty acids (C14 and longer), which don’t have the same ketogenic and fast absorptive properties of medium chain fatty acids (C6-C12).

      One of the things that’s bad about eating too many long chain fatty acids, is that they can be converted to fat much more easily than MCTs.

      Regarding lauric acid, I haven’t looked too deeply in the literature regarding the effects of this on neurons, since most of the research has been focused on capric and caprylic acid… but will let you know if I find anything.

      Given what I’ve discovered about MCTs so far, I plan on either putting together a series of posts and/or an e-book going into further detail about what I’ve found.

      Of particular interest is the stuff I’ve come across in how effective MCTs are for weight loss. Lots of data out there that I’m starting to put together. I’m convinced enough that I’m trying to use more MCTs throughout my day.

      Real clinical research data too… not just claims/marketing on health podcasts and testimonials!

      I’m definitely a believer in MCTs now, more so than before.

    • BJJ Caveman says:

      Thanks for the HDL article too… I’ll add that to my collection of articles!

    • BJJ Caveman says:

      I should also add that (lauric acid aka dodecanoic acid) also has the same benefits of super fast absorption and ketogenesis seen with capric (C10) and caprylic (C8) acid, so this is great for stimulating the metabolism and brain, using coconut oil.

      The only issue to consider is the amount of Long chain fats you’re receiving, which if it is on the higher end of the spectrum, 42% would really offset the metabolic benefits seen with ketogenesis if weight loss/body recomposition is your goal.

  2. Maryann says:

    Hi! Thank you for the interesting information. How do you incorporate MCTs into your diet? How much and how often would you recommend for weigtht loss (is it different for men and women)? At some point, don’t all of the extra calories cause weight gain even if low carb/ketogenic? Thank you very much!

    • BJJ Caveman says:

      Right now I’m only taking 2 tbsps per day… one in the morning, and one in the evening.

      I’m not following any particular protocol though, since I’m still reading through a big pile of papers focused on MCT and metabolism.

      What has been researched is all over the place, 15 gm, 50 gm, 30%-50% of caloric intake, etc… So it’s taking me a while to try to put it all together.

      Regarding excess MCTs… it seems to be self limiting, because it elicits GI distress and diarrhea, and is the main reason people can’t tolerate it.

      I’ll hopefully be able to put out a post about this stuff soon… time permitting.

  3. Dylan says:

    This is a very helpful piece for those of us who cringe a bit at that $45 price tag. I picked up MCT oil from Vitacost (I don’t have any affiliation with them, just a customer) that is, according to the label at least, the equivalent of the Upgraded MCT, but a bit less expensive.

    I will mention that if you suddenly change your morning routine from a cup of tea and a slice of toast in favor of slamming two big cups of “upgraded” coffee packed with delicious butter and oil, you’re going to suffer “gastric distress.” “Gastric distress” means “You will poop the liquid nuclear poop of despair, many, many times. Your marriage may fail, children will flee from you, and you’ll probably get audited.”

    Remember to start slow and take betaine HCL along with your MCT to avoid “gastric distress.”

    • BJJ Caveman says:

      I second your description of ‘liquid nuclear poop of despair’ …. when I’ve over done it with MCTs, a good 6 hrs was spent either on the toilet… or curled in a fetal position because of the cramps..

      The other suggestion I’ve found that works is to eat it with food. I’ll sometimes put 1-2 tbsp over whatever veggies or meat dishes that I’m eating. this seems to really improve my tolerance.

  4. rs711 says:

    clear and concise analysis, thanks!

    “The only issue to consider is the amount of Long chain fats you’re receiving, which if it is on the higher end of the spectrum, 42% would really offset the metabolic benefits seen with ketogenesis if weight loss/body recomposition is your goal.”

    Are you proposing that with LCFAs we’re seeing a scenario of diminishing returns relative to SCFAs? i.e., ratio => #ketones to #calories…is diminishing with LCFAs vs SCFAs?

    • BJJ Caveman says:

      That’s what I think thus far from everything I’ve seen… I’m still trying to gather more info, so my views may change. I’d like to find a place that will go into the ratio of SCFAs to LCFAs in various brands of coconut oils, which would really help!

  5. BobM says:

    Thank you for the detailed breakdown. I have also notice nothing substantial between the two regarding performance.
    What do you think about the kidney stone warning on the brain octane bottle? I didn’t see that on the Upgraded MCT label.

    • BJJ Caveman says:

      You know what? Thanks for pointing that out to me, I never notied it. I can’t think of why C8 would affect kidney stones…. it’s not processed at all by the kidneys

  6. Christopher Taylor says:

    I also was wondering about the kidney stone risk disclaimer on the C8 product page. I cannot find any mentions of this other than the coupled with fluid restriction risk associated with older seizer prevention practices @CaloriesProper spoke of. I cannot see how that would be exclusive to C8 though; the C8/C12 combo does not have the same disclaimer.

  7. Vikram says:

    Here’s an advantage to Caprylic Acid – it fights candida and there are some research studies that show it can help to protect the lining of the stomach (sorry – couldn’t find it via Dr. Google – was reading it yesterday).

    From a brain function stand point – anything that is going to improve gut function improves cognitive function. This is why I suspect Dave refers to it as “Brain Octane”. I have to say the best effect I have for dieting though is with coconut oil because lauric acid suppresses appetite.

    Great post BTW – love it.

  8. Martha Jo Demnison says:

    Thank you for posting this thorough and informative article. I have just started drinking Bulletproof coffee and ordered the Brain Octane, since I have been diagnosed as an adult with ADD and wondered if it would be better. I did notice a difference when I got up to 2 T of oil, but that effect seems to have tapered off. I’ve noticed I’m drinking more coffee now, though, and may cut back on the butter. However, after reading your article, I’m starting to re-think my approach altogether. As a child, I had mild seizures which were controlled by the time I went to college. I was off medication completely by my late twenties. Still, MCT might be better for my particular brain; I’m not sure.

    • BJJ Caveman says:

      I appreciate your kind words. It probably wouldn’t hurt to give MCT oil a try for a week and then Brain Octane a try for another week and see if you feel any different. That may help guide you more as to what works best for you. Keep us updated! I’m sure other readers would love to hear about your experience as well.

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