Fractionated Coconut Oil: What is It and What Are the Health Benefits?

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People of a fresh coconut cut in half with water splashing.Over the past decade, coconut oil has skyrocketed in popularity as the negative myths surrounding saturated fat subside.

However, there’s a particular type of oil on the shelves you may not know about: fractionated coconut oil.

This article looks into precisely what fractionated coconut oil is, how it compares to regular coconut oil, and whether it’s good or bad for you.

What is Fractionated Coconut Oil?

Generally speaking, fractionated coconut oils remove most of the long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) through a process called “fractionation.”

As a result, they predominantly consist of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs).

We can find three types of fractionated coconut oil;

  • Fractionated coconut oil: this oil takes the name of the production process. It is not food grade, and it’s selling for external use.
  • MCT oil (Medium-Chain Triglycerides): Similar to liquid coconut oil but this only contains two medium-chain fatty acids – capric and caprylic acid.

There are also other variants of MCT oils which contain specific single medium-chain fatty acids.

Unlike virgin coconut oil, all fractionated coconut oils are refined (i.e. they are man-made in a factory).

As mentioned, they primarily contain MCFAs, while regular coconut oil contains both MCFAs and LCFAs.

The table below shows the different fatty acid compositions for coconut oil (CO) and fractionated coconut oil (FCO);

Fatty Acid CO FCO
Arachidic acid (long-chain) MINIMAL
Capric acid (medium-chain) LOW HIGH
Caproic acid (short-chain) MINIMAL
Caprylic acid (medium-chain) LOW V. HIGH
Lauric acid (medium-chain) HIGH LOW
Linoleic acid (long-chain) MINIMAL
Myristic acid (long-chain) MEDIUM
Oleic acid (long-chain) LOW
Palmitic acid (long-chain) MEDIUM
Stearic acid (long-chain) LOW

The two major fatty acids in all fractionated coconut oils are the MCFAs capric acid and caprylic acid.

Notably, lauric acid—the most important fatty acid in regular coconut oil—is only present in small concentrations.

Regular coconut oil is approximately 92% saturated fat, whereas fractionated coconut oils are fully saturated.

Key Point: Fractionated coconut oil contains more saturated fat and medium-chain fatty acids, but it doesn’t contain long or short-chain fats.

How is Fractionated Coconut Oil Made?

Picture of a coconut next to a bottle of fractionated coconut oil.

You may have noticed the form coconut oil takes depends on the current temperature.

This is because it has a melting point of 24°C (76°F), so unless you are lucky enough to live in a tropical climate, coconut oil will change depending upon the season (1).

As the winter approaches, coconut oil will be a solid cloudy white color at room temperature.

However, on a hot summer’s day, that same oil will become a clear liquid.

Since every fatty acid contained within coconut oil has a slightly different melting point, it is possible to separate each one.

This separation sums up the definition of fractionation; separating the constituents of a gas or a liquid.

The fractionation process starts off by heating regular coconut oil to its melting point.

When the coconut oil reaches its melting point, it becomes a liquid state. After cooling, individual fatty acids such as lauric acid and the LCFAs will re-solidify at a quicker pace than the MCFAs.

As a result, we can then separate these solid fatty acids from the rest of the oil.

Doing this leaves a coconut oil composing of mainly MCFAs, and we can call this fractionated coconut oil.

Differences Between Coconut Oil and Fractionated Coconut Oil

Here is a quick run-down of how regular and fractionated coconut oils compare;

Property Coconut Oil Fractionated Coconut Oil
Production Cold-pressed or refined Refined
MCFAs 64% 100%
LCFAs 35% 0%
SCFAs <1% 0%
Saturation 92% 100%
Melting Point 24°C / 76°F -4°C / 25°F
Smoke Point 177°C / 350°F 160°C (320°F)
Other Names Cold-pressed coconut oil
Virgin coconut oil
Extra virgin coconut oil
EVOO
Refined coconut oil
Liquid coconut oil
MCT oil
Main Fatty Acid Lauric Acid Caprylic Acid
Key Point: The fractionation process removes the long-chain and short-chain fatty acids. As a result, fractionated coconut oil is pure medium-chain fatty acids – mainly capric and caprylic acid.

Why Are MCFAs Beneficial?

Picture showing the chemical structure of caprylic acid - a medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA)

Firstly, the body doesn’t metabolize medium-chain fatty acids in the same way as it does long-chain fats.

Similar to how fiber is different to most carbohydrate and doesn’t digest into glucose, MCFAs also have a different digestive pathway.

Notably, they do not require bile salts for their digestion. After we consume MCFAs, our body takes them directly to the liver from the gastrointestinal tract.

Upon arrival, they are converted into instant energy to fuel the body (2).

As a result of this unique pathway, MCTs have a wide variety of research behind them as a potential weight loss tool.

Key Point: Unlike most dietary fats, medium-chain fatty acids are directly transported to the liver for conversion into energy.

Health Benefits

Young lady feeling healthy and holding a fresh coconut.Research shows some significant benefits of consuming fractionated coconut oil.

These include;

  • Weight loss
  • Impact on insulin resistance
  • Easy digestibility
  • Maintaining brain health and treating brain conditions
  • Instant source of energy
  • Antioxidant properties

Weight Loss

  • In calorie-controlled diets, several studies show that MCTs resulted in less fat storage than olive oil, soybean oil, and rapeseed oil (3, 4, 5).
  • Thirteen randomized controlled trials show that dietary medium-chain fats result in greater weight loss than long-chain fats (6).
  • MCTs “increase fat oxidation and energy expenditure, reduce food intake and beneficially alter body composition” (7).
  • Several studies show that MCTs increase satiety and can potentially lead to a reduced food intake (8, 9, 10).

Insulin Resistance

Easy Digestibility

  • Unlike other dietary fats, MCTs do not require any complex digestion process. They are converted into almost instant energy via the liver and are therefore much easier to digest (13, 14, 15).

Brain Health

  • MCFAs—especially caprylic acid—have evidence showing they can play a significant role in the management of epilepsy. In fact, several studies indicate that supplementation with MCT oil significantly improves epileptic seizure control (16, 17, 18).
  • There is building evidence that MCFAs may also play a beneficial role in the treatment—and potentially prevention—of Alzheimer’s disease (19, 20, 21).

Instant Energy

  • As MCFAs convert to energy without requiring digestion by bile acids, they may hold benefits for sporting performance. However, the studies are a mixture of positives and negatives (22, 23, 24).
  • One study concludes that MCT oil has poor efficiency and that it is “not superior to carbohydrate supplementation (25).

Other

  • Fractionated coconut oils have a longer shelf life, and they are more resistant to oxidation. This is partly due to their higher level of saturated fats compared to regular coconut oil.
Key Point: Fractionated coconut oil and medium-chain fatty acids have several important health benefits. The science is particularly strong about weight loss and brain health.

Drawbacks

A Man Holding His Stomach Feeling Sick After Fractionated Coconut Oil.While fractionated coconut oil has benefits relating to the compounds it does contain, there is a notable fatty acid missing.

There are also some potential side effects.

Lauric Acid

In particular, MCFAs contain virtually no lauric acid – one of the most beneficial fatty acids in coconut oil.

Coconut is the most significant source of lauric acid in the world, with only human breast milk coming anywhere close.

However, while coconut oil contains 50% lauric acid by volume, fractionated coconut oil only contains lauric acid in single digit amounts.

Numerous studies show that lauric acid has some substantial health benefits;

  • Lauric acid is known to have antibacterial, antimicrobial and antiviral properties (26, 27, 28, 29).
  • While lauric acid increases total cholesterol, the most significant rise occurs in HDL, and it positively affects the overall LDL/HDL ratio. Higher HDL levels are associated with reduced cardiovascular risk (30, 31).
  • Lauric acid can be used externally to treat acne or inflammatory skin conditions due to its strong antibacterial properties (32).

Side effects

Unfortunately, MCT oils have some documented side effects in certain individuals.

These mainly involve gastrointestinal complaints such as (33, 34);

  • Bloating
  • Cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

However, they are rare, and it appears that they only occur when consuming large amounts of MCFAs.

Expense

Another key point to look at is the cost of fractionated coconut oils; approximately double the price of regular coconut oil.

Key Point: Fractionated coconut oils may cause several gastrointestinal side effects. Also, they don’t contain the extremely beneficial lauric acid – and they come at double the price of regular coconut oil.

Uses of Fractionated Coconut Oil

A girl using fractionated coconut oil on her face as moisturizer.There is a wide range of uses for all three types of fractionated coconut oils.

It’s worth remembering that these are all similar, and you can probably use each in the same way without worry.

But for the purpose of this article, the uses match the different product names;

Fractionated Coconut Oil

The self-named product is intended for external use for beauty and skin health maintenance.

It is possible to use the oil as;

  • Hair and skin moisturizer
  • Shiner for hair and face
  • Hair conditioner
  • UV protection: coconut oil offers some (but minimal) protection from UV rays. However, it only has a very weak effect, and we shouldn’t rely on it for sun protection. Careful sun exposure and either seeking shade or using natural sunscreens are both better options to prevent burning.

Liquid Coconut Oil

Liquid coconut oil is intended for cooking purposes.

However, it’s important to note that it has a slightly lower smoke point than regular coconut oil does (160°C compared to 177°C).

If you specifically want a cooking oil, it would be better (and cheaper) just to stick to extra virgin coconut oil.

MCT Oil

Picture of MCT oil a kind of fractionated coconut oil.MCT oil is not intended for cooking or external use.

This oil is promoted as a supplement to gain higher amounts of medium-chain fatty acids in the diet.

It has also received a lot of attention due to its use in Bulletproof Coffee.

If you want more MCFAs in your diet, then MCT oil is the best (but not the cheapest) option.

Key Point: Fractionated coconut oils have a broad range of internal and external uses. Generally speaking, the self-titled ‘fractionated coconut oil’ is the better option for external use. MCT oil is the best choice specifically for getting dietary MCFAs.

Final Thoughts

What kind of fractionated coconut oil is the best?

That really depends on what you want it for.

Do you want to consume more MCFAs in your diet for medical reasons? Or perhaps to test the supposed weight loss benefits?

In that case, MCT oil is likely the best choice.

On the other hand, if you want it for beauty and skincare purposes, then go with the fractionated coconut oil.

Lastly, unless there’s any special reason why you need a higher amount of MCFAs, then I’d just use regular coconut oil.

It’s cheaper and a lot less processed.

Additionally, it contains all the beneficial fatty acids that exist in a real coconut – something that fractionated oils can’t claim.

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