Your Guide to Essential Fatty Acids
Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Dr. Eric Venn-Watson’s Highlights
Fats have gotten both good and bad press, but some fats (even some saturated fats) are good for us.
Essential fatty acids are so called because our bodies need them to function properly, but cannot readily make them on their own — we must get them from our diets.
C15:0 is the third known essential fatty acid that our bodies need, and a good way to get it into our diets is through supplementation with fatty15.
It seems like the information we hear about fats changes every decade or so. First, fats weren’t considered good or bad, then they were taken off the table completely, and now they’re back — but only certain ones. It’s easy to get lost.
If you’re feeling a little fat-frustrated, this guide can help. We’ll explain why fats have such a checkered past. We’ll also talk about which fats are an important part of your diet and health care plan — and which you should probably still avoid.
We’ll also help you make sense of which fats are considered essential, and tell you about a newly discovered fatty acid that science supports as the first essential fatty acid to have been discovered in over 90 years.
But first, a big fat history of fat.
Why Did Fat Get a Bad Rap?
Everything was just fine back in the 1950s and 1960s until Americans began dying of heart disease at an alarming rate. The rate was so alarming that heart disease had become one of the highest causes of death among adult males.
At the same time, things were changing at home. Prepackaged food, TV dinners, and a more sedentary lifestyle rapidly reformed the modern American family, and our waistlines showed it.
The government took action and issued dietary guidelines in 1977 to 220 million Americans (including men, women, and children). The message was clear: avoid fats to decrease heart disease, improve weight loss efforts, and save your life.
But, We Got It Wrong
We paid attention, and an entire generation of folks was raised on fat-free milk and other low-fat products. As Americans embarked on this low-fat diet, we became even more unhealthy.
In fact, childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes rates skyrocketed, and even more Americans developed heart disease and atherosclerosis.
Although the guidelines were meant to improve our health, there is evidence to support that the guidelines lead to the opposite, an increased amount of heart disease, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that increase our risk of developing heart disease, stroke and diabetes. These conditions include:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Insulin resistance
- Excess weight (especially around the midsection)
Unfortunately, dietary guidelines are still relatively the same as in the 1970s, but we know that fat, at least some fat, is back on the menu. That means it’s important to understand the differences between different kinds of fat and their healthiest sources.
What’s the Skinny on Fat?
By now, we’ve all heard the term “healthy fat.” Don't be fooled if you’re licking your lips in anticipation of ice cream cones and cheese pizza.
Fat is an essential part of our diets and a vital part of our body’s proper functionality, but eating the right fats is key to staying healthy. Unfortunately, you probably won’t find the “right” fats in your favorite New York deep dish.
Fats, or fatty acids, are chains of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms attached to them. At the end of this chain of molecules, there’s a carboxyl group, also called a COOH or carboxylic acid.
Whether a fat is saturated or unsaturated depends on the number of bonds between the carbon atoms and whether they are short or long chains.
Let’s start by talking about the differences between saturated and unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats usually get all the good press.
A few fast facts about unsaturated fat:
- They’re liquid at room temperature
- They have one or more double or triple bonds between their molecules
- Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are both unsaturated fats
Unsaturated fats are in two subcategories: monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.
- Monounsaturated fats. These fats have one unsaturated carbon atom in the molecule. Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature but solidify when chilled. Olive oil is an example of monounsaturated fat.
- Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAS). These fats have more than one unsaturated carbon atom in the molecule or a double or triple bond in some fatty acid chains. Like monounsaturated fats, these too are liquid at room temperature but begin to solidify when chilled. Sunflower oil is also a source of polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Unsaturated fatty acids include omega-3s like alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and omega-6’s like linoleic acid, arachidonic acid, and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).
Sources of these fatty acids include seed oils like flaxseed oil, chia seeds, soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, and fatty fish like salmon and mackerel.
If it seems saturated fat is the dietary fat pariah in the room, it’s because it is. The problem, however, is that not all saturated fats deserve the infamy they have.
Some saturated fats are actually good for us.
A few fast facts about saturated fats:
- They’re solid at room temperature
- They have single bonds between their carbon molecules.
- Multichain triglycerides, or MCTs, are examples of saturated fats.
Just like their cousins, the unsaturated fats, we can break saturated fats into two distinct groups: even-chain saturated fats and odd-chain saturated fats.
- Even-chain saturated fats. These fats have an even number of carbon atoms in their fatty acid chain. Higher concentrations of even-chain saturated fats in our bodies are associated with inflammation, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. An example of an even-chain saturated fat is palmitic acid or C16:0, which is surprisingly in many organic, prepackaged foods.
- Odd-chain saturated fats. These fats have an odd number of carbon atoms in their fatty acid chain. These fats are associated with positive health markers, like balanced immunity, heart health, healthy metabolism, red blood cell health, and liver health. An example of an odd-chain saturated fat is pentadecanoic acid, also known as C15:0. Remember this acid, because it’s going to be very important in our study of essential fatty acids.
Saturated fats include coconut oil, MCT oil, palm oil, and animal fat. If you’re scratching your head about a few of those, we’ve got you covered.
Is Coconut Oil Healthy?
Coconut oil devotees will point to the medium chain fatty acid (MCFA) content, bypassing the fat storage pathway and heading directly to the liver, where it can quickly become energy. This is amazing if you are a professional athlete who needs extra fuel while performing. Not so amazing if you work at a desk all day and lead a less active lifestyle.
Coconut oil does raise your bad cholesterol levels, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll develop coronary heart disease if you consume it. It does, however, mean that consuming large amounts of it is probably not a health-conscious idea.
There’s also a good amount of research to support the topical application of coconut oil. Because it contains essential nutrients that can benefit the skin, you’ll find it popping up in skin care products and cosmetics.
What About MCTs?
Another popular fatty acid supplement, called MCT oil, is usually sold in oil form. MCT, short for medium-chain triglyceride, is a type of fatty acid made almost completely from MCFAs. As such, it’s not hard to connect the dots between highly active people and the need for this type of fatty acid supplementation.
For the average person, increasing your MCT consumption could also increase your cholesterol; chances are, you don’t need supplementation.
Before we finish our cursory overview of fats, we need to explain trans fats. Some trans fats naturally occur in animals' digestive systems, but most are a part of the food processing industry.
While packaging and processing food, hydrogen is added to liquid vegetable oils to cause them to become more solid.
Trans fats raise unhealthy LDL cholesterol levels while lowering good HDL cholesterol levels. As such, it’s best to avoid this type of fat.
Trans fats are usually in prepackaged foods like cakes, cookies, chips, or pastries.
What Is an Essential Fatty Acid?
Some fatty acids are essential like some vitamins and minerals are essential.
Essential simply means our bodies need them to function properly but cannot readily make them.As such, we need to get them from our diets or supplementation.
Which Fatty Acids Are Essential?
A lot of information about essential fatty acids (EFA) can make it very hard to understand which are essential and which are not. For instance, you’ve probably heard that both omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids are essential, but that’s only partially true.
Omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids are both categories of fatty acids (scroll to the list we created above while talking about saturated fats for a reminder). Not all of the fatty acids in each category are essential.
Here’s a look at the ones that are:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the only omega-3 that is considered essential. However, most omega-3 supplements contain ALA and two other omega-3s, EPA and DHA.
- Linoleic acid (LA) is the only omega-6 that is essential.
While other omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may provide some health benefits, excessive consumption of them is actually linked with unhealthful side effects like:
- Low blood pressure
- Thinning of blood
- Increased risk of bruising
- Excessive bleeding if an injury were to occur.
In addition, consuming too much omega-6 may counteract the benefits of omega-3 consumption, and has been shown to increase the risk of obesity.
Are Omegas Good Fats?
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have been studied extensively, but in clinical trials, only one omega-3 fatty acid (pure EPA without the inclusion of DHA) demonstrated protective benefits for adult heart health.
We'd definitely agree that news seems a little underwhelming while you swallow your fish-oil capsule. The Achilles heel of the omegas doesn’t stop there.
What Does Science Say? Omega-3 vs. C15:0
Some studies of omega-3s have shown benefits, while others have not. Recent data suggests that only pure EPA (without DHA) has health health benefits. A recent study of pure EPA vs C15:0 (a newly discovered essential fatty acid) was completed which showed:
- In studies of cell-based systems, omega-3 only had 10 relevant, dose-responsive benefits for our cells, compared to C15:0, which had 36. C15:0’s benefits included immune-calming and immune-balancing properties and the ability to prevent unwanted or “bad” cells from proliferating.
- Studies also revealed that omega-3 could only safely repair four out of 12 cell-based systems. C15:0 repaired 10, including cells of the heart and lungs.
- Most concerning, omega-3 was toxic to four of the 12 cell-based systems studied at the highest dose. The cells that omega-3s were toxic to included blood vessels and lung cells. C15:0 was safe for 12 out of 12 cell-based systems.
- Because omega-3 is unsaturated fat, it’s subject to lipid peroxidation — omega-3 can go rancid if it sits on a store shelf long enough. Researchers found that as many as one in 10 bottles of omega-3 fish oil supplements on store shelves had gone rancid. BecauseC15:0 is a solid at room temperature, C15:0 is resistant to oxidation.
- The required dosage for omega-3 is usually very high, between 2,000-3,000 mg daily, compared with dosage requirements for C15:0 (100 mg/day). This means that instead of 2-3 large oily fish pills, you only have to take 1 small, pure powder C15:0 pill per day.
- The fishy aftertaste is an inconvenient and undesirable side effect of taking an omega-3 supplement. Often, the sources of omega-3s are fatty fish.
If you’re keeping score (and why wouldn’t you be), that’s a landslide victory for a newly discovered essential fatty acid called C15:0.
C15:0: The Third Essential Fatty Acid
The omega fatty acids were discovered in the 19th century by a husband and wife team, and C15:0 was discovered in the 21st century, also by a husband and wife team of scientists studying the effects of C15:0 on longevity and healthy aging in dolphins.
While helping dolphins live healthier lives, Dr. Stephanie Venn-Watson, a veterinary epidemiologist, discovered that some dolphins had fewer age-related illnesses than others.
Dr. Venn-Watson found that higher circulating levels of C15:0 were responsible for many health benefits in the healthiest dolphins.
She went further, looking into the health benefits of this molecule in human populations, and three years later, she published her findings in Nature's Scientific Reports in 2020.
Since 2020, the global scientific community has published more than 50 peer reviewed articles on the benefits of C15:0 and an additional group of researchers have corroborated that C15:0 is indeed an essential fatty acid that is needed for our bodies to maintain their proper, healthy function.
What C15:0 Does
C15:0 plays an important role in virtually every process in our body. This essential fatty acid improves cellular health, the building blocks of our health.
Additionally, science supports that C15:0 is better, broader, and safer than the highest performing, purest form of omega-3.
C15:0 helps support your health in several key ways:*
- Strengthening cell membranes. As we age, our cells become weak, and the membranes that protect them become flimsy. C15:0 is a sturdy fatty acid that integrates into cell membranes, fortifying them and keeping them strong.
- Improves mitochondrial function. Our cells can’t carry out cellular processes without energy; their mitochondria produce that energy. Aging cells have sluggish mitochondria that cause cellular function to decline. C15:0 kickstarts mitochondrial function, improving it by up to 45 percent.
- Helps improve cellular signaling. C15:0 naturally binds to receptors found throughout our bodies, called PPARs (pronounced pee-pars), that help to regulate our metabolism, including our cholesterol and glucose homeostasis.
- Support for your nervous system. By binding to PPARs that control mood and sleep, C15:0 helps support a balanced mood and helps you rest better in as little as 45 days of continued supplementation.
- Support for heart health. People who used C15:0 for fatty acid supplementation demonstrated improved tissue and organ function health markers in as little as six months.
Better for you, safer for your cells, and more benefits for your cellular health than fishy oils, C15:0 is the essential fatty acid that strengthens our cells and helps us lead healthier and potentially, even longer lives.*
What Foods Contain C15:0?
C15:0 is in trace levels in whole-fat dairy products and some types of fish and plants. Because of the aforementioned dietary guidelines, we are a society that has been increasingly avoiding foods that are rich in C15:0, like whole-fat dairy.
In addition, the trend toward plant-based beverages (like almond milk, oat milk, or soy milk) has worsened our global deficiency, as many of these products are completely deficient in C15:0.
As we age, our C15:0 levels naturally decline, which means we may require increasing levels of C15:0 as we get older. However, increasing your intake of whole-fat dairy products comes with extra calories, sugars, and high levels of the "bad" even-chain saturated fats.
A solution? Fatty15™.
Fatty15 is a breakthrough supplement, born from scientific discovery, containing one pure ingredient: FA15™.
The first and only supplement to contain FA15™, the pure-powder, vegan-friendly, sustainably-produced, award-winning version of C15:0
Just one capsule per day provides you with 100 mg of FA15™ and can restore your circulating C15:0 levels to a healthy range. You can rest easy knowing that you'll never have a rancid bottle or experience fish breath with fatty15. Additionally, each batch of fatty15 is sustainably produced, third party tested for purity and sent to you in earth friendly, sustainable packaging. Good for you and good for the earth too.
Essential Fatty Acids: The VIPs of Your Health Supplementation
In addition to knowing more about fat, we now know that some fats are good for us, and further, even some saturated fats are essential for maintaining our health. It’s important to know the research and understand why some fatty acid supplements are more effective and beneficial than others to make the best decision for your health.
While some fatty acids may have health benefits, they may also have unwanted side effects (we’re looking at you, fish burps). Ensuring we get enough healthy fat in our diet is important.
Yes, fat is back. But making the right choices about dietary fat consumption and supplementation are key to keeping healthy.
Fatty15 is your solution for protecting your cells and supporting your long-term health and wellness.*
Broader and safer clinically-relevant activities of pentadecanoic acid compared to omega-3: Evaluation of an emerging essential fatty acid across twelve primary human cell-based disease systems | PLOS ONE
Eric Venn-Watson M.D.
Senior Scientist, Co-Founder
Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.
You May Also Like...
Endocannabinoid System and Its Role in Appetite
Eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight would be easy if it weren’t for that ravenous appetite! Sometimes it seems like the more we focus on losing weight, the more tempted we are to eat more food.
What Is the Autonomic Nervous System & Why Is It Important?
The human nervous system comprises two major parts and several subparts. We’ll break them down and focus on the autonomic nervous system, including what it does, why it’s important, and what you can do to support it.