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Cellular and Physiological Effects of Medium-Chain Triglycerides

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From a nutritional standpoint, saturated triglycerides with a medium (6 to 12) carbon chain length (MCT) have traditionally been regarded as biologically inert substances, merely serving as a source of fuel calories that is relatively easily accessible for metabolic breakdown compared with long chain triglycerides (LCT). This quality of MCT has been shown to offer both benefits and risks depending on the clinical situation, with potential positive effects on protein metabolism in some studies on one side, and an increased risk for ketogenesis and metabolic acidosis on the other. At another level, studies regarding lipid effects of MCT on the immune system, as with LCT, so far have yielded equivocal results, although there is a recent experimental evidence to suggest that MCT posses immune modulating properties and should in fact be regarded as bioactive mediators. Most of this information comes from studies where effects of MCT have been compared with those of LCT in lipid emulsions, as part of parenteral (intravenous) nutrition formulations. Unfortunately, the relevance of these observations for clinical practice remains largely unclear because adequately powered trials that clearly point out the position of MCT in relation to structurally different lipids have not been performed. In the present paper we review the experimental and clinical evidence for cellular and physiological effects of nutritional MCT. In addition, studies describing possible mechanisms behind the observed effects of MCT will be discussed.
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Keywords: biologically inert substances; ketogenesis; long chain triglycerides; medium-chain triglycerides; metabolic acidosis

Document Type: Review Article

Affiliations: Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, University Medical Centre Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

Publication date: 01 October 2004

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  • The aim of Mini-Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry is to publish short reviews on the important recent developments in medicinal chemistry and allied disciplines.

    The scope of Mini-Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry will cover all areas of medicinal chemistry including developments in rational drug design, synthetic chemistry, bioorganic chemistry, high-throughput screening, combinatorial chemistry, drug targets, and natural product research and structure-activity relationship studies.

    Mini-Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry is an essential journal for every medicinal and pharmaceutical chemist who wishes to be kept informed and up-to-date with the latest and most important developments.
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