MCTs plus vitamin D show cognitive benefits for the elderly: RCT

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock/Jevtic
© iStock/Jevtic

Related tags Fatty acid Nutrition

A combination supplement containing medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), L-leucine-rich amino acids, and vitamin D3 may boost cognitive function in frail elderly people, says a new study.

Three months of supplementation with the combination supplement improved scores in both the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) and the Nishimura geriatric rating scale for mental status (NM scale), according to data from a randomized, controlled, parallel group study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology​.

 “Statistically significant improvements in MMSE and NM scales were observed in the [leucine-vitamin D-MCT] group, suggesting that the daily combined supplementation of MCTs (6 g), leucine-rich amino acids, and cholecalciferol may be a feasible diet to benefit cognition in frail elderly individuals,” ​wrote scientists from Showa Women’s University in Japan.

Study details

The study included 38 elderly nursing home residents with a mean age of 87. The participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: The first group received no supplements and acted as the control; the second group received L-leucine (1.2 g) and vitamin D3 (20 micrograms)-enriched supplement with 6 g of MCT; and the third group received the same supplement but with 6 grams of long chain triglycerides (LCT) instead of MCTs.

After three months of intervention, the results showed that the MMSE score in the MCT group increased by 11%, while no changes were observed in the LCT group, and MMSE scores declined by 8% in the control group.

In addition, NM scale scores increased by 31% in the MCT group, compared to declines of 11% and 26% in the LCT and control groups, respectively.


Since similar effects were not observed in a group of people who received LCTs plus the amino acids and D3, indicating that the benefits were mainly due to the MCTs, said the researchers.  

Commenting on the potential mechanism(s) of action, the researchers noted that the production of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) from MCTs leads to a rapid production of ketones, which are “delivered to the brain for use as an energy source and for the synthesis of phospholipids”​, while MCFAs themselves may also directly activate brain cells.

“It is conceivable that in addition to the leucine and cholecalciferol, after addition of the MCTs, blood concentrations of ketone bodies and MCFAs might be further increased and eventually improve brain function,”​ they stated.

The researchers also noted that an earlier study by them in 2016 (published in the Journal of Nutrition​) showed that the MCT plus leucine and vitamin D3 supplement could improve muscle strength and function in frail elderly people.

“Thus, the combination of MCTs, leucine, and cholecalciferol may be a candidate supplement for improvement in cognitive function as well as muscle function as described previously,” ​they wrote.

Source: Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology
Volume 63, Number 2, Pages 133-140, doi: 10.3177/jnsv.63.133
“Medium-Chain Triglycerides in Combination with Leucine and Vitamin D Benefit Cognition in Frail Elderly Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial”
Authors: S. Abe et al. 

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