Medium chain triglycerides (MCT) bypass the steps necessary for the absorption of long chain fats (LCT), and so have theoretical grounds for their use in various disease states, particularly malabsorptive disorders. In childhood, MCT have particular advantages since they allow restriction of dietary long chain fats without limiting the intake of protein necessary for growth while providing adequate calories.
In malabsorptive states, MCT have been used mostly in cystic fibrosis, where they may reduce steatorrhoea. However, the long-term growth patterns of these children are dependent on the extent and severity of their chest disease. MCT may be a useful source of calories for those with anorexia due to infection or liver disease and in babies recovering from meconium ileus. The decrease in offensive stools, flatus, and abdominal discomfort improves well-being and social acceptability which is important for many schoolchildren and adolescents. Rectal prolapse may be helped.
Where there is loss of the small intestinal absorptive surface, particularly after massive small bowel resection, MCT can help to maintain weight and nutrition. They may also be a useful supplementary nutritional measure in patients severely affected with coeliac disease while awaiting response to a gluten-free diet, and in patients with regional enteritis.
In children with liver disease, MCT provide a ready source of calories while avoiding the loss of fat in their stools. Infants with neonatal hepatitis or biliary atresia remain well nourished, and some older children with liver disease grow more rapidly and have fewer and less offensive stools and less abdominal discomfort.
Where an abnormal number of faecal organisms colonize the small intestine (`contaminated small bowel syndrome' or `blind loop syndrome') intraluminal bile salts become deconjugated and cause steatorrhoea. A combination of antibiotic and surgical treatment is usually indicated, but MCT can be used to improve nutrition before operation and may be indicated for associated conditions, such as massive intestinal resection.
MCT have also been helpful in patients with defective chylomicron formation due to a-β-lipoproteinaemia.
In the congenital and less commonly encountered acquired lymphatic disorders in childhood, MCT have given encouraging results. This group includes patients with gross protein and fat loss due to intestinal lymphangiectasia and others with lymphatic anomalies at other sites.
Hyperchylomicronaemia (familial fat-induced hypertriglyceridaemia) responds well to dietary treatment with MCT.