MCTs are ‘promising nutrients’ for tackling sarcopenia, say researchers

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / CherriesJD
© Getty Images / CherriesJD
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), hot ingredients in the dietary supplement space, may boost muscle strength and function in frail older people, says data from a randomized controlled trial.

Six grams per day of MCTs for three months led to significant improvements in measurements of muscle strength and function, according to data published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition​.

“This study, which provided a control group ([long-chain triglycerides] only) and investigated time course changes, clearly shows that in frail elderly individuals, MCTs are an important nutrient for increasing muscle strength and function and [activities of daily living],” ​wrote scientists from the National Center for Global Health and Medicine in Tokyo, Japan.

“Their increases were greater at 3 months than at 1.5 months after initiation of the intervention and were attenuated at the end of the 1.5-months washout period.

“These data suggest that a 3-months intervention may be required to obtain substantial effects from MCTs and that the effects are reversible.”


Muscle loss is a natural part of aging, and researchers have estimated that, after the age of 50, we lose 1-2% of our muscles each year. Strength declines as well, at a rate of 1.5% per year beginning at 50 years and accelerating to 3% after the age of 60.

According to a monograph from the US Dairy Export Council, the direct health care cost attributable to sarcopenia were estimated to be $18.5bn in 2000 in the US, a number that represented about 1.5% of health care expenditures for that year.

Study details

The new study suggests that MCTs are “promising nutrients” for sarcopenia.

The Tokyo-based scientists recruited 64 frail elderly people who were nursing home residents. The average age of the participants was 85.5. They were randomly assigned to one of three groups: The first group received 6 grams per day of long-chain triglycerides (LCT – the control group), while the second group received 6 grams per day of MCTs (MCT group), while the third group received 6 grams per day of MCTs plus L-leucine and vitamin D3 (LD + MCT group).

The participants were studied for three months and the assessments continued for 1.5 months after the end of the interventions.

Results showed that  for the 48 people who completed the study, people in the LD + MCT and the MCT groups experienced 74% and 48% increases in leg open and close test performance, compared to a 12% decline in the LCT group.

In addition, swallowing tests showed that the LD + MCT and the MCT groups experienced increases of 44% and 28%, respectively, compared to a 28% decline in the LCT group.

Questionnaires assessing activities of daily living (ADL) also revealed improvements in both MCT groups, compared to the LCT group.

The results “strongly [suggest] that supplementation with MCTs (6 g/d) is a feasible means of improving the muscle strength and function and ADL of frail elderly individuals,” ​concluded the researchers. “In addition, an increase in ADL by supplementation with MCTs might reduce the burden of the caregivers.”

Source: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqz138
“Medium-chain triglycerides (8:0 and 10:0) are promising nutrients for sarcopenia: a randomized controlled trial”
Authors: S. Abe,  O. Ezaki, M. Suzuki

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