Omega-7 Protects Against Metabolic SyndromeApril 2014
By Carol Stockton
Most people are aware of the wide-ranging benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, but you likely aren't aware of a category of omega-7 fats that provide some unique health effects.
Scientists have recently uncovered a specific kind of omega-7 called palmitoleic acid. This newly discovered fat molecule is so important that Harvard Medical School has applied for a patent on it.1
What's so special about this particular omega-7?
It powerfully addresses many of the underlying factors involved in metabolic syndrome.2-7 This feat would require multiple prescription drugs to achieve8—with potentially dangerous side effects. Omega-7 palmitoleic acid can safely do all this at a fraction of the cost.
Omega-7 can reduce risk of type II diabetes, prevent the buildup of atherosclerotic plaque, increase beneficial HDL and lower an inflammation marker called C-reactive protein, which is associated with an increased risk for heart attack and stroke.3,5,7,9
In these ways, omega-7 is able to powerfully—and affordably reduce risk of the negative consequences of metabolic syndrome—including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other life-threatening disorders.
What Is Palmitoleic Acid?
Palmitoleic acid is a member of the class called omega-7 fatty acids. Omega-7s include several different fatty acids. For the purposes of this article, when we refer to omega-7, we're referring to palmitoleic acid.
Unlike the better known polyunsaturated omega-3s, omega-7s are monounsaturated fats.10 And while omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial largely because they become incorporated into anti-inflammatory molecules,11 omega-7s have an entirely different mechanism of action. Omega-7 fats function as signaling molecules that facilitate communication between fat and muscle tissue in your body.12
This special signaling function qualifies omega-7 to be identified as a unique lipokine—a hormone-like molecule that links distant body tissues to assure optimal energy utilization and storage.12
That's what allows omega-7 to have broad-reaching effects on various factors of metabolic syndrome.2-7,13
Ingestion of just a small amount of omega-7 has a profound effect on the body's response to energy intake, fat storage, and utilization, all of which are imbalanced in metabolic syndrome. Omega-7 suppresses the production of new fat molecules, especially those fats that damage tissue and raise cardiovascular risk.2,14
In fact, omega-7's beneficial effects resemble those of many drugs (such as Lipitor®, Actos®, Lopid®, and others) commonly used by people with high cholesterol and/or high blood sugar, major elements of metabolic syndrome that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Omega-7 Fights The Factors Of Metabolic Syndrome
As medically defined, metabolic syndrome, a major contributor to cardiovascular disease risk and type II diabetes, consists of:15-17
- Elevated glucose and insulin resistance.
- Lipid disturbances (high triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol).
- High blood pressure.
- Central obesity ("apple shape").
- Chronic inflammation.
Even though chronic inflammation is not technically a criterion for metabolic syndrome, it is widely recognized as a fifth major pathological contributor to the condition.15,17,18
If you have metabolic syndrome, it means you are already well along the road to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other life-threatening disorders.16 Fortunately, omega-7 works in five distinct and complementary ways to reduce most of metabolic syndrome's harmful effects on your health:
- It reduces insulin resistance and lowers blood glucose.3,4
- It suppresses fat production and accumulation.2,3
- It normalizes abnormal lipid profiles (including raising beneficial HDL-cholesterol).3,5-7
- It fights obesity.3,13
- It powerfully suppresses the inflammation that drives metabolic syndrome.3,7
We will break down each of the factors one at a time in order to see how omega-7 addresses the various contributing factors involved in metabolic syndrome, ultimately reducing risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and more.
Omega-7 Fights Inflammation
There's a close connection between fat tissue and the chronic, low-grade inflammation that's associated with metabolic syndrome.17-19 The connection may be related to an enzyme known as SCD1 (stearoyl-CoA desaturase 1).
When scientists remove SCD1 activity in lab animals, their levels of fat tissue inflammation fall sharply, and their ability to respond to insulin (insulin sensitivity) rises.20 In the lab, adding omega-7 to cultures of fat cells triggers these same benefits by suppressing SCD1 activity.2
Animal studies show significantly reduced levels of fat-related inflammatory cytokines (signaling molecules) following administration of omega-7.3 And the livers of supplemented animals show significant reductions in the number of activated inflammatory cells, an effect that may help prevent fatty liver disease.21 Many of these beneficial anti-inflammatory effects may arise from the ability of omega-7 to deactivate the master inflammatory regulation complex called NF-kappaB.21
There's now impressive human data on how omega-7 can lower inflammation and reduce the resulting cardiovascular risk. In a pilot trial of adults with high levels of C-reactive protein (blood marker of inflammation), supplementation with 210 mg a day of omega-7 resulted in a robust 73% decrease of C-reactive protein.6
Those results were extended in a larger, randomized clinical trial, in which all patients had abnormally high CRP levels (greater than 3 mg/dL). In this study, 30 days of supplementation with 210 mg/day of palmitoleic acid resulted in a significant drop in CRP of 1.9 mg/dL — that's a 43% reduction in a dangerous cardiovascular risk marker. Moreover, by the end of the supplementation period, the average CRP level was reduced from greater than 4 mg/dL to 2.1 mg/dL.7 The health ramifications of this marked reduction in C-reactive protein are profound, especially in abdominally-obese individuals who often exhibit dangerously elevated levels of this inflammatory indicator (CRP).
Omega-7 Lowers Glucose And Insulin Resistance
Omega-7 has multiple beneficial effects on blood sugar and insulin. Researchers discovered that when mice with type II diabetes were supplemented with omega-7, they had lower blood glucose and triglyceride levels. 3 At the same time, their insulin resistance and liver fat deposits were significantly reduced. Liver fat deposition is a key factor in metabolic syndrome, and is a leading cause of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD.3 These animals also experienced decreases in diabetes-related weight gain, and reduced levels of inflammatory cytokines.
Omega-7 produces these encouraging results because it attacks multiple underlying mechanisms responsible for type II diabetes/insulin resistance.
In metabolic syndrome as well as in type II diabetes, the body's cells become resistant to the sugar-lowering effects of insulin. This results in rising sugar levels, and also rising levels of insulin, both of which are toxic in large quantities. Omega-7 counteracts this by doubling glucose uptake by muscle cells, increasing their ability to burn sugar for energy and store it in quick-release, non-toxic glycogen.22
What happens next is that when your body's cells become resistant to the sugar-lowering effects of insulin, blood sugar will eventually rise. Pancreatic cells that produce insulin are among the casualties of high glucose, eventually resulting in still higher sugar levels and worse tissue damage.23 Omega-7 protects the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas from glucose-induced toxicity; in fact, omega-7 enhances proliferation of pancreatic beta cells, helping your body optimize blood sugar control with its own natural insulin.24
Omega-7 levels strongly predict insulin sensitivity: One's odds of having beneficially high insulin sensitivity rise dramatically as their blood omega-7 levels rise.4