For decades, the public has been told to avoid foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol. A new study, led by the National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF) and published in online on July 22, 2015 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, reports that a saturated fat, called heptadecanoic acid, may help reverse prediabetes in humans. NMMF research discovered that bottlenose dolphins can readily switch in and out of diabetes-like states, and that dolphins - including those in the wild - can develop metabolic syndrome, a subclinical condition called prediabetes in humans. "To better understand what may be a driver for metabolic syndrome in dolphins, we started exploring their diet, which is primarily fish," said Dr. Stephanie Venn-Watson, Director of the NMMF's Translational Medicine and Research Program and the study's lead author. Because of the popularity of fish-based omega-3 fatty acids as a human health supplement, NMMF's team started by assessing fatty acid blood levels in 49 dolphins, as well as in their dietary fish. "We were surprised to find that among the 55 fatty acids studied, the saturated fat heptadecanoic acid appeared to have had the most beneficial impact on dolphin metabolism," said Dr. Venn-Watson. "Dolphins with higher levels of heptadecanoic acid in their blood had lower insulin and triglycerides." The study also showed that while some fish have high levels of heptadecanoic acid, other fish types had none. Six dolphins with low heptadecanoic acid were then fed fish high in this fatty acid. Within six months on the new diet, indicators of metabolic syndrome in dolphins, including elevated insulin, glucose, and triglycerides normalized. Key to this surprising outcome was reversal of high ferritin, an underlying precursor to metabolic syndrome.
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