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Nutrition. 2013 Apr;29(4):635-40. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2012.09.009. Epub 2012 Dec 28.

Stimulation of mild, sustained ketonemia by medium-chain triacylglycerols in healthy humans: estimated potential contribution to brain energy metabolism.

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Research Center on Aging, Health and Social Services Center, University Institute of Geriatrics of Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Québec, Canada.



In humans consuming a normal diet, we investigated 1) the capacity of a medium-chain triacylglycerol (MCT) supplement to stimulate and sustain ketonemia, 2) ¹³C-β-hydroxybutyrate and ¹³C-trioctanoate metabolism, and 3) the theoretical contribution of the degree of ketonemia achieved to brain energy metabolism.


Eight healthy adults (26 ± 1 y old) were given an MCT supplement for 4 wk (4 times/d; total of 20 g/d for 1 wk followed by 30 g/d for 3 wk). Ketones, glucose, triacylglycerols, cholesterol, free fatty acids, and insulin were measured over 8 h during two separate metabolic study days before and after MCT supplementation. Using isotope ratio mass spectroscopy, ¹³C-D-β-hydroxybutyrate and ¹³C-trioctanoate β-oxidation to ¹³CO₂ was measured over 12 h on the pre- and post-MCT metabolic study days.


On the post-MCT metabolic study day, plasma ketones (β-hydroxybutyrate plus acetoacetate) peaked at 476 μM, with a mean value throughout the study day of 290 μM. Post-MCT, ¹³C-trioctanoate β-oxidation was significantly lower 1 to 8 h later but higher 10 to 12 h later. MCT supplementation did not significantly alter ¹³C-D-β-hydroxybutyrate oxidation.


This MCT supplementation protocol was mildly and safely ketogenic and had no side effects in healthy humans on their regular diet. This degree of ketonemia is estimated to contribute up to 8% to 9% of brain energy metabolism.

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