12 January - 20 June 2016

Research finds saturated fat (heptadecanoic acid) may help reverse prediabetes in dolphins

13 January 2016

For decades, the public has been told to avoid foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol. However, a new study led by the National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF) in the USA has discovered that a saturated fat called heptadecanoic acid (or C17:0) may help reverse prediabetes in dolphins and possibly humans. Because of the popularity of fish-based omega-3 fatty acids as a human health supplement, NMMF’s team started by assessing fatty acid blood levels in 49 dolphins, as well as in their dietary fish. Six dolphins with low heptadecanoic acid were then fed fish high in this fatty acid. Within six months on the new diet, indicators of metabolic syndrome in dolphins, including elevated insulin, glucose, and triglycerides normalised. Key to this surprising outcome was reversal of high ferritin, an underlying precursor to metabolic syndrome. Heptadecanoic acid is a saturated fat found in dairy fat, rye, and some fish. The researchers hypothesised that widespread movement away from whole fat dairy products in human populations may have created unanticipated heptadecanoic acid deficiencies. NMMF’s discovery aligns well with growing scientific evidence demonstrating that cholesterol and some fats may not be as bad as once thought.

In conclusion, this study with dolphins is the first to propose low blood and dietary C17:0, a saturated fatty acid, as a means to detect elevated insulin with associated high ferritin. Further, a modified diet with an increased daily C17:0 intake in a small number of dolphins was associated with resolving metabolic syndrome and decreasing ferritin. This is the first report of lower total serum C17:0 as an independent predictor of higher ferritin. Future research with human populations is needed to assess relationships among dietary intake of foods high in C17:0 and potential beneficial impacts of this saturated fat on metabolic syndrome, hyperferritinemia, and diabetes. Importantly, the potential benefits of increased dietary C17:0 intake need to be measured carefully against total caloric intake and increased intake of other fats which may not be beneficial.

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