Lauric acid is the most abundant medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA) in virgin coconut oil. It's a powerful "super ingredient" that provides a wide range of health benefits for pets, including the power to boost the immune system, protect the skin and coat, and keep the gastrointestinal tract healthy.
But despite the fact that it's such a beneficial ingredient, there's a lot of controversy regarding lauric acid in coconut oil. In today's post, we'll dive into the lauric acid debate and clear up some common misconceptions. We'll also take an in-depth look at how MCFAs are metabolized by the body.
What's the Difference Between LCFAs, MCFAs, & SCFAs?
Saturated fatty acids can be grouped into three main categories: long-chain, medium-chain, and short-chain fatty acids. Both the length of the carbon chain of the fatty acid and the degree of hydrogen saturation determine the fatty acid’s properties and their effects on health.
Long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) have chains of 14-22 carbon atoms. The most common dietary LCFAs are palmitic acid, myristic acid, and stearic acid. Because of their long carbon chain length, LCFAs are difficult for the body to break down. This means that they can put a lot of strain on the digestive system and internal organs such as the liver and pancreas. LCFAs are also often stored as fat, increasing the risk of health problems like obesity and heart disease. Dairy fats, animal fats, fish oil, as well as corn, sunflower, flaxseed, avocado, and olive oils are examples of long chain fatty acids.
Medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) have chains of 6-12 carbon atoms. Some of the most common MCFAs in this group are lauric acid, capric acid, caprylic acid, and caproic acid. Unlike palmitic acid and myristic acid, these fatty acids do not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, they have been proven to benefit overall health thanks to the way they are processed by the body (more on this in a moment). Virgin coconut oil and breast milk are the richest sources of MCFAs.
Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) contain fewer than 6 carbon atoms. Some of the most common are butyric acid (4 carbon atoms long), propionic acid (3 carbon atoms long), and acetic acid (2 carbon atoms long). SCFAs are the end products of intestinal microbial fermentation of fiber. This means that, unlike LCFAs and MCFAs, they are mainly produced by the body. Research has shown that SCFAs have an important role to play in supporting gut health. They are also thought to promote overall health and decrease the risk of inflammatory diseases such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
Is Lauric Acid a MCFA or LCFA?
Some people state that despite its chemical structure, lauric acid really "functions" as a LCFA and uses the same metabolic pathways as long-chain triglycerides. By saying this, they infer that like a LCFA, lauric acid needs to be broken down by pancreatic lipase then transported via chylomicrons (a low-density lipoprotein) through the lymphatic system and to other organs in the body. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The truth is that lauric acid (also known as dodecanoic acid) is a saturated fat with a 12-carbon atom chain. This means that it is classified as a MCFA, and has many properties of medium-chain fatty acids. The most abundant natural source of lauric acid is virgin coconut oil (which is about 50% lauric acid). The only other abundant source found in nature is human breast milk.
The value of lauric acid is widely known, and there are over 2,000 published studies on the health benefits it provides. It has powerful antimicrobial properties that make it useful as a treatment for a variety of diseases. A number of viral infections, including colds, flu, and herpes, respond to treatment with it. Lauric acid has been shown to reduce the viral load of HIV/AIDS patients. It is also useful for killing bacteria that cause diseases such as chlamydia, MRSA, and bronchitis.
How Are MCFAs Metabolized by the Body?
In this section of the post, we'll take a look at the unique way in which MCFAs are metabolized by the body. Here's what happens when you eat coconut oil, a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) that's rich in beneficial medium-chain fatty acids including lauric acid:
1) The medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) in coconut oil are absorbed through the small intestines. They do not need pancreatic lipase for digestion.
2) MCFAs then travel through the portal vein directly to the liver, instead of through the blood or lymphatic system. They do not get stored in fatty adipose tissues.
3) The liver metabolizes the MCFAs without the need for bile acids, and releases it as energy. This is why coconut oil is considered a thermogenic oil!
When consumed, lauric acid converts to monoglyceride monolaurin, a beneficial substance that's scientifically proven to be antibacterial and antimicrobial. This means that it helps support the immune system and protects against disease. Dr. Mary Enig, a Ph.D. nutritionist/biochemist and one of the world's leading authorities on fats and oils, explains:
"Lauric acid in coconut oil is formed into monoglyceride monolaurin in the human or animal body. Monolaurin is the antiviral, antibacterial, and antiprotozoal monoglyceride used by the human or animal to destroy lipid coated viruses such as HIV, herpes, cytomegalovirus, influenza, various pathogenic bacteria including listeria monocytogenes and helicobacter pylori, and protozoa such as giardia lamblia. Some studies have also shown some antimicrobial effects of lauric acid."
MCFAs in Virgin Coconut Oil
As we've mentioned throughout this post, lauric acid is the most abundant MCFA in virgin coconut oil. Therapeutic-grade oil such as CocoTherapy Virgin Coconut Oil contains high levels of lauric acid (at least 53% compared to an average of 40% in grocery store brands). It is also a good source of capric acid and caprylic acid, which provide a number of health benefits.
Lauric acid (C:12) is a slightly larger medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA) compared to coconut oil’s other MCFAs, capric (C:10) and caprylic acid (C:8). The size of these molecules determines the rate of ketone conversion and assimilation.
The two smaller MCFAs (caprylic and capric) are converted to ketones at a rapid rate. After consumption, they elevate blood ketone levels in 1.5 hours. However, after 3 hours, they are completely assimilated. This provides a quick source of energy.
Lauric acid is converted to ketones by the liver at a slightly slower rate than caprylic and capric acids. It elevates blood ketone levels to therapeutic levels in 3 hours, and stays elevated for a full 8 hours. Scientific research has shown that when lauric acid is not converted into ketones immediately by the liver, it will travel directly to the brain. It is then converted to ketones by the brain itself. While lauric acid is partly converted into ketones by the liver, the rest enters the bloodstream where it can reach the brain and defend it against infection, as well as be converted into brain ketones. This is crucial for reducing brain inflammation and degeneration.
The combination of the three MCFAs in virgin coconut oil provide powerful and long-lasting health benefits for both people and pets. MCFAs, including lauric acid, are primary components of animal milk. Rather than being harmful to pets, they are essential for proper growth and development. To say that lauric acid is dangerous is unfounded and contrary to the vast majority of published research.
Before introducing coconut oil to your pet's diet, make sure to choose a high-quality, natural product. CocoTherapy therapeutic-grade virgin coconut oil is safe, unrefined, and packed full of the wonderful health benefits that make it a true "superfood."
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