Health benefits of odd-chain fatty acids | Sunday Observer

Health benefits of odd-chain fatty acids

27 August, 2023

Odd-chain fatty acids are a unique subgroup of fatty acids that contain an odd number of carbon atoms in their structure, ranging from 15 to 21 carbons.

While most fatty acids in our diets and body tissues have an even number of carbon atoms, odd-chain fatty acids play a crucial role in various metabolic processes. In this article, we will explore the characteristics, sources, and health benefits of odd-chain fatty acids.

Odd-chain fatty acids are primarily classified into two main types: pentadecanoic acid (15:0) and heptadecanoic acid (17:0). Pentadecanoic acid has 15 carbons, while heptadecanoic acid has 17 carbons.

Trace amounts of other odd-chain fatty acids, such as nonadecanoic acid (19:0) and heneicosanoic acid (21:0), can also be found in certain foods.

Broken down by bacteria

One of the significant sources of odd-chain fatty acids is dairy products. In particular, milk and dairy fats, such as butter and cheese, contain notable amounts of pentadecanoic acid and heptadecanoic acid.

When cows consume plant-based feed, the cellulose in their rumen is broken down by bacteria into volatile fatty acids, some of which are absorbed and converted into odd-chain fatty acids in the cow’s body. These odd-chain fatty acids are then secreted into the cow’s milk, making dairy products a rich source for human consumption.

Apart from dairy, odd-chain fatty acids can also be found in certain fish, meat, and plant-based foods. Cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and trout, are known to contain Omega-3 fatty acids, including odd-chain fatty acids. Grass-fed beef and lamb have also been found to have higher levels of odd-chain fatty acids compared to grain-fed counterparts. Plant-based sources like legumes, whole grains, and certain vegetables also contain minor amounts of odd-chain fatty acids.

Now, let’s dive into the health benefits associated with odd-chain fatty acids. One of the notable properties of odd-chain fatty acids is their ability to lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Studies have shown that higher concentrations of odd-chain fatty acids in the blood are associated with decreased levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and reduced risk of developing heart disease.

It is believed that odd-chain fatty acids promote the breakdown and clearance of LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream, thereby improving cardiovascular health. Odd-chain fatty acids also play a role in regulating insulin sensitivity and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.

Insulin-like effects

Research suggests that pentadecanoic acid and heptadecanoic acid have insulin-like effects, promoting glucose uptake by cells and improving insulin sensitivity. This can be beneficial for individuals with diabetes or those at risk of developing insulin resistance.

Odd-chain fatty acids have demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is a key factor in the development of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Studies have indicated that odd-chain fatty acids, particularly heptadecanoic acid, can inhibit inflammatory pathways and reduce the production of pro-inflammatory substances in the body.

Odd-chain fatty acids also contribute to the production of certain beneficial compounds in the body. For instance, pentadecanoic acid is a precursor for the synthesis of biologically active molecules called sphingolipids, which play critical roles in cellular function and signaling. Additionally, odd-chain fatty acids are involved in the production of propionate, a short-chain fatty acid that acts as an energy source for colon cells and exhibits anti-cancer properties.

Odd-chain fatty acids, characterized by their odd number of carbon atoms, are an essential subgroup of fatty acids found primarily in dairy products, fish, meat, and plant-based foods. These fatty acids offer various health benefits, including lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases, regulating insulin sensitivity, and exhibiting anti-inflammatory properties. Incorporating sources of odd-chain fatty acids into a balanced diet can contribute to overall health and well-being.