Nutrition research can be challenging, exciting and it is certainly ever-evolving. The potential health benefits of consuming omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids and omega-9 fatty acids are well-documented. However, a new omega fatty acid is starting to make a splash in the nutrition world. It’s called omega-7.
While our Fats 101 page dives further into fatty acid nomenclature, simply stated, omega-7s have a double bond at the seventh carbon in the fatty acid chain. Included in the omega-7 category are several different fatty acids:
- Palmitic acid is a saturated fat commonly found in palm oil.
- Palmitoleic acid is a monounsaturated fat found alongside palmitic acid in food sources like macadamia nuts and a fruit called sea buckthorn.
- The cis isomer can be produced by the human body.
- The trans isomer is found naturally in dairy and meat products.
Despite the fact that they are found together in only a few natural food sources, emerging research is showing that these two fatty acids may have exact opposite effects on health. Some research suggests that as a saturated fat, palmitic acid promotes inflammation and damages the pancreas while potentially increasing one’s risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cognitive decline. On the other hand, as a monounsaturated fat, palmitoleic acid is the kind of fat more often linked to health benefits. Recent research has shown palmitoleic acid to promote insulin sensitivity — which in turn promotes a healthy pancreas — and satiety as well as its potential ability to reduce inflammation and improve blood lipid levels.
Furthermore, some research also has shown that the different versions of palmitoleic acid may exert different metabolic effects — with the trans isomer (found in foods) showing more positive effects on decreasing fat tissue, lipid levels, inflammatory markers and insulin resistance.
In spite of the promising research and the marketing of supplements, it is too early to clearly state what impact these fatty acids can have on human health or what role they may eventually play in food products. Most research on palmitoleic acid to date has been conducted on animals, and results from trials involving humans are conflicting. This will be a fatty acid to keep your eye on, however, as more research is published.