It's a tough word to say, but even if palmitoleic acid doesn't roll off your tongue, it's worth educating yourself about so that you can get more of it in your diet.
Palmitoleic acid is a little-known, but highly promising fatty acid present in some of the most delicious high-fat foods.
Of recent interest to scientists, this fatty acid seems to be the subject of new research studies. So we're here to break some of the findings down and give you the skinny on this fat.
What Is Palmitoleic Acid?
Palmitoleic (pal-mee-to-lay-ick) acid is a monounsaturated fat and among eight others that are part of the omega-7 fatty acid group.
This group shares a common feature—they all have a double bond (or lack of hydrogen atom, hence “mono” unsaturated) at the number seven carbon atom of the fatty acid chain [*][*].
But unlike omega-6 and omega-3 fats found in seeds, nuts, eggs, and fish, omega-7 fats are not essential fatty acids because your body can make them endogenously.
Just like other fatty acids (like caprylic acid in MCT oil), palmitoleic acid is made up of mostly carbon and hydrogen atoms.
Palmitoleic acid has 16 carbon molecules in it, while caprylic acid has 10 (and lauric acid, which is represented in the figure below, has 12). When long-chain fatty acids bind with glycerol, you get long-chain triglycerides (LCTs, not MCTs). This figure will help:
In this case, three identical fatty acids (lauric acid - C12) bind with glycerol to make an MCT. But if all three fatty acids were long-chain (e.g., palmitoleic), they'd make a long-chain triglyceride.
Palmitoleic acid and vaccenic acid are the two most common omega-7s. But palmitoleic has many unique benefits [*] outlined below.
TLDR: Palmitoleic acid (C16) is a long-chain fatty acid [*], and when it combines with glycerol, it makes a long-chain triglyceride.
Benefits of Palmitoleic Acid
The human body can produce palmitoleic acid. This omega-7 fatty acid is found in your tissue and liver.
But research has found benefits of ingesting dietary palmitoleic acid. Here are the benefits of palmitoleic acid:
1. Palmitoleic Acid May Support Heart Health
Atherosclerosis is a process in which cholesterol builds up to form plaque that blocks your blood vessels. According to studies, palmitoleic acid may decrease the subject's chances of developing high blood pressure and atherosclerosis by reducing blood vessel swelling [*].
Additionally, scientists have found that palmitoleic acid may strengthen your immune system, which also decreases swelling and inflammation, protecting heart health [*].
2. Palmitoleic Acid Supports Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin resistance happens when your body’s cells do not respond to insulin, a hormone that controls the levels of blood sugar by facilitating glucose utilization.
Palmitoleic acid has been found to offer protection against insulin resistance in some research [*][*].
According to various studies, omega-7 fatty acids may increase the metabolism of glucose, suggesting that individuals who are at greater risk of metabolic syndrome, pre-diabetes, or diabetes may benefit from consuming dietary omega-7 fatty acids.
3. Palmitoleic Acid Improves Satiety
Taking palmitoleic acid, either in supplement form or in food form, may help you feel full longer.
According to a study, palmitoleic acid reduced food consumption and encouraged the release of satiety hormones in rats [*]. Research has also found that omega-7 fatty acids may decrease total blood lipids and fat cell size and increase fat-burning [*][*].
According to another study, palmitoleic acid balanced insulin resistance in people prone to developing type 2 diabetes.
4. Palmitoleic Acid May Support Skin Health
Palmitoleic acid may support the health of skin, nails, and hair.
When skin cells get exposed to the sun, pollution, or chemicals, they get oxidized, which may cause your skin to age prematurely.
Omega-7 fatty acids protect against this oxidative damage by encouraging the development of new skin cells. In addition, some research has shown that palmitoleic acid may increase the synthesis of elastin and collagen, proteins that keep your skin young, strong, and reduce the appearance and onset of wrinkles [*].
5. Palmitoleic Acid May Reduce Inflammation and Swelling
Omega-7 fatty acids may decrease inflammation in people suffering from ulcerative colitis, a kind of inflammatory bowel disease [*]. Research also finds that they may help to decrease inflammation and discomfort in dry eyes [*].
Obesity or too much alcohol consumption can cause swelling in the internal organs, leading to fatty liver disease. Research shows that palmitoleic acid may be effective in individuals with fatty liver disease by suppressing inflammatory cytokines and improving insulin sensitivity [*].
Cytokines play a key role in fatty liver diseases and lead to inflammation and insulin resistance [*][*].
6. Palmitoleic Acid Supports Normal Cholesterol Levels
Omega-7 fats may also help increase good HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels and decrease bad LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels by balancing levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker of heart disease [*].
High LDL cholesterol levels lead to a buildup of fats in your arteries (i.e., atherosclerosis). This condition can begin to block the arteries and, therefore, increases your risk of suffering a stroke and heart attack.
Conversely, a high HDL cholesterol level may protect against these conditions, a win-win for palmitoleic acid and cardiovascular health.
Food Sources of Palmitoleic Acid
As far as fatty acids go, palmitoleic acid is fairly rare in that there are only a few known dietary sources that contain a meaningful amount.
Here are some of the sources of omega 7-fatty acids.
1. Macadamia Nuts and Oil
Beyond tasting delicious, macadamia nuts are also a source of omega-7 fatty acids. They contain:
- 20% palmitoleic acid
- 60% oleic acid
- 80% of monounsaturated fatty acids [*].
Because of the fat content of macadamia nuts, and the vitamins and minerals found in the nut and its oils, macadamia nuts may be beneficial to your health.
The palmitoleic acid in macadamia nuts make them even more special, since they're one of just a few foods that contain them.
Generally speaking, monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) are much better than polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) [*].
MUFAs are more stable than PUFAs. They are less likely to oxidize than PUFAs so they are better for heating and cooking. Make sure to use the right oil when cooking.
2. Sea Buckthorn Oil
Sea buckthorn berries are rich in tocopherols and palmitoleic acid. Tocopherols are a type of vitamin E that decreases swelling and protects cells against sun-induced damage [*][*].
Sea buckthorn oil, which is obtained from the seeds and fruits of the plant, can improve circulation and protect you from allergens and infections [*].
Sea buckthorn oil is an excellent source of palmitoleic acid, vitamin A, and vitamin C.
3. Avocado Oil
Avocado oil contains palmitoleic acid along with other saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and monounsaturated fats.
The oil has a high smoke point (520°F), meaning it can withstand higher temperatures than other oils (thereby resisting becoming a trans fat).
Interestingly, the smoke point of avocado oil is higher than sunflower oil (440°F) and extra-virgin olive oil (320°F).
4. Olive Oil
Olive oil contains small amounts of omega-7 fats.
However, even foods with small amounts of this fat are worth considering. The oil contains healthy polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, 20% palmitic acid, which the body converts into palmitoleic acid.
Palmitoleic acid is an omega-7 fatty acid that may pack some little-known health benefits.
Omega-7 fatty acids can be found in macadamia oil and nuts, olive oil, and sea buckthorn oil or berries. But if you want a convenient source of palmitoleic acid, check out FBOMB’s lineup of premium oils.
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