Palmitoleic Acid: An Anti-Aging Fatty Acid?

Most people have become familiar with the terms omega fats, or more specifically omega-3 fats, and most are aware that these fats are beneficial to consume in ones healthy diet. It is useful to point out that ALL fatty acids that have at least one site of unsaturation (chemically this is a carbon-carbon double bond) can be called an omega fatty acid. A fatty acid is any molecule that contains several carbon atoms bonded together with a carboxylic acid group at one end and only hydrogen atoms attached to the rest of the carbons. The term omega, in the context of fatty acids, refers to the end of the molecule that is farthest from the carboxylic acid end (omega being the last letter of the Greek alphabet). The term omega-3 fatty acid means that the first carbon where a double bond is encountered, starting at the omega end, is #3. Omega-3 fatty acids are not the only critically important omega fats to have in ones diet.

structure of DHA showing the omega naming

The highly beneficial omega-3 fatty acids are called EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic aicd) which most people know are found in fish oils such as those in sardines, tuna, and other cold water fishes. These same omega-3 fatty acids are found in Krill oil and in the yolk of chicken eggs to name two other rich sources of omega fats. Indeed, Krill oil is a better source of EPA and DHA than fish oil for several reasons but one critically important reason is that Krill oil also contains the potent antioxidant, astaxanthin. EPA and DHA are called polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) because they have several carbon-carbon double bonds (sites of unsaturation). Most people are also familiar with the evidence that, in general, the consumption of saturated fatty acids is not good, whereas the consumption of unsaturated fatty acids (in particular PUFAs) is beneficial. However, it is important to note that not all saturated fatty acids are bad, take for example lauric acid found in coconut oil, as I have recently blogged:

What many people are unaware of is that there are other unsaturated fatty acids that have serious health benefits. The monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA), palmitoleic acid, is one such unsaturated fatty acid. In the omega naming format palmitoleic is an omega-7 fatty acid because its single carbon-carbon double bond is found on carbon 7 from the omega end of the molecule. Even if you have never heard of palmitoleic acid before if you eat eggs, or cheddar cheese, or avocados, or macadamia nuts you have been eating this beneficial fat. The richest source of palmitoleic acid is the sea buckthorn or the oil from this plant and, yes there are numerous companies selling sea buckthorn oil supplements!!

So what is it about palmitoleic acid that makes it something one should consider increasing in their healthy diet? Palmitoleic acid is likely to be a potent anti-aging fat. Experimental and clinical studies have shown that palmitoleic acid exerts many of its beneficial effects via activation of the master regulatory enzyme called AMP-activated protein kinase, AMPK. Activation of AMPK has profound effects on metabolism, many of which are critically defective in type 2 diabetes. AMPK inhibits glucose production by the liver while simultaneously enhancing glucose metabolism (oxidation), resulting in reductions in blood glucose. In addition, activated AMPK reduces lipid synthesis and enhances lipid metabolism (oxidation). These effects at the level of carbohydrate and lipid metabolism result in enhanced insulin responses in the body. AMPK is also critical in the process of autophagy which is the cellular mechanism to rid the cell of damaged macromolecules and organelles so that the cell can survive. Altered or defective autophagy is a prime contributor to cellular aging and, therefore, activation of AMPK is proposed to exert longevity (anti-aging) effects. For more details go to my website:

As for the anti-aging role of palmitoleic acid, it is this activation of AMPK that underlies the benefits. Get out there and have an egg with a slice of avocado!!!


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