The New Essential Fatty Acid

Here’s the deal: Those even-chain fatty acids (ECFAs) I listed above? They’ve all been implicated in increased risk of inflammation, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes in humans.

Contrast that with high dietary intake of odd-chain fatty acids (OCFAs). They seem to offset the possible metabolic damage caused by the ECFAs as they’ve been associated with lower risks of chronic inflammation, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, obesity, type 2 diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), non-alcoholic fatty liver, pancreatic cancer, and other conditions.

One hefty study followed 14,000 people for 14 years and found that increased dietary intake of OFCAs was associated with lower mortality rates in both men and women, while higher ECFA intake was associated with higher mortality, at least in women.

Another observational study, this one involving dolphins, found that the marine mammals responded to higher intake of OFCAs much the same as humans – they had lower risk of metabolic syndrome and liver disease. Of course, the dolphins didn’t get additional OFCAs by eating full-fat dairy products. Instead, they got them through eating certain types of fatty fish. More on that later.

A lot of other studies have also examined specific, individual effects of OFCAs in humans or human cell lines. One found that they were partial agonists of all three PPAR isoforms. PPARs are located throughout the body, and they regulate inflammation and metabolism by responding to dietary fats. Since OFCAs are partial agonists, they give the PPARs a helping hand and make them more efficient in their noble biochemical actions.

Another found that OFCAs repaired mitochondrial function. One found that they lowered glucose and cholesterol (at least in mice). Still another study, this one using rabbits, found that they attenuated anemia, inflammation, and liver iron overload.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, none found that the fatty acid was toxic to nearly any type of human cell they could throw at it. Neither did it have any “off-target” pharmacological activities (like growing a second, tiny head, or affecting any downstream chemical reactions in general).

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