Dr. Thomas Dwan - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Thomas Dwan

Is Palmitoleic Acid Bad For You?

Also Known As: Omega-7 fatty acid



Short answer

Palmitoleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid, has potential health benefits, including positive effects on inflammation, insulin sensitivity, and lipid metabolism. Found naturally in certain foods like macadamia nuts and fish, it contributes to cell structure and signaling. While not harmful, its impact is influenced by dietary context and overall fat intake balance. Research suggests moderate intake within a varied diet that includes other healthy fats is likely beneficial.



Long answer

Palmitoleic Acid 101: Functions and Sources

Before we can dissect the implications of palmitoleic acid on health, it's essential to understand what it is and where it comes from. Palmitoleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid, denoted by the scientific community as 16:1n-7. It plays several vital roles within the bodyscape, immortalizing itself as both a structural component of cell membranes and as a signaling molecule with multiple biological actions.

Functionally speaking, palmitoleic acid has been implicated in a variety of physiological processes:

  • Anti-inflammatory Properties: Research indicates that palmitoleic acid exhibits anti-inflammatory effects, which could be beneficial in reducing the risk of chronic diseases associated with inflammation.
  • Insulin Sensitivity: It may positively influence insulin sensitivity, thereby playing a potential role in the management of blood sugar levels and type 2 diabetes.
  • Lipid Metabolism: There's evidence suggesting that palmitoleic acid can impact lipid metabolism, which includes the regulation of "good" HDL cholesterol and "bad" LDL cholesterol.
  • Cell Signaling: As a signaling molecule, it can communicate between organs, which is crucial for maintaining the body's homeostasis.

With its far-reaching influence on the human body, it's prudent to know the sources of palmitoleic acid. It's naturally present in certain foods, predominantly within the lipid profile of animal fats and some vegetable oils. Here's a concise list:

  • Macadamia nuts and macadamia nut oil
  • Sea buckthorn oil
  • Aquatic sources like fish oil and certain types of fatty fish (e.g., salmon, sardines)
  • Dairy products (primarily full-fat)
  • Avocado

Understanding these sources is pivotal because not all fats are created equal. As a monounsaturated fatty acid, palmitoleic acid is often nestled among other fat types in these foods which may include saturated and polyunsaturated fats. As a result, the health effects of consuming palmitoleic acid can't be isolated from the effects of these other fats. Therefore, evaluating the source of palmitoleic acid intake—and the overall dietary context—is necessary for a holistic understanding of its role in nutrition and health outcomes.

The conversation regarding the virtues of palmitoleic acid often intersects with discussions about omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, given their collective importance in a balanced diet. Yet, unlike these more celebrated fatty acids, palmitoleic acid doesn't quite receive the same level of acclaim or scrutiny, though recent research indicates it deserves a closer examination for its potential metabolic and anti-inflammatory impacts.

The pursuit of understanding palmitoleic acid's functions and sources leads us to grapple with the very fabric of nutritional complexity—balancing the scales of beneficial versus potentially negative implications. As no stranger to the battlefield that is nutritional science, I press onward, acknowledging the body of evidence while continuing to question every hypothesis and every claim.

Comparing Saturated, Monounsaturated, and Polyunsaturated Fats

Understanding the nuanced world of dietary fats is critical for making informed health decisions. Let's dissect the differences between saturated, monounsaturated (MUFA), and polyunsaturated fats (PUFA), and how palmitoleic acid, a lesser-known MUFA, fits into the picture.

Saturated Fats: Traditionally demonized for their purported link to heart disease, saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature. Found in foods like red meat, butter, and cheese, recent research suggests that the relationship between saturated fats and cardiovascular health may be more complex than previously thought. The Annals of Internal Medicine published a meta-analysis in 2014 which questioned the direct link between saturated fat consumption and heart disease, suggesting that the context of overall dietary patterns must be considered.

Monounsaturated Fats: MUFAs are generally considered heart-healthy due to their association with improved blood lipid profiles. These fats, liquid at room temperature but solidifying when chilled, are prevalent in olive oil, avocados, and certain nuts. Palmitoleic acid falls under this category and is found in macadamia nuts and sea buckthorn oil. A study in The Journal of Nutrition highlighted that palmitoleic acid might exert favorable effects on insulin sensitivity and plasma lipid levels, hinting at the complexity and potential benefits of MUFAs.

Polyunsaturated Fats: PUFAs, which include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, are essential fats that the body cannot produce on its own. They play a crucial role in brain function and cell growth. Fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds are high in omega-3s, while many vegetable oils and processed foods contain omega-6s. It is important to maintain a balance between omega-3 and omega-6 intake, as an imbalance, particularly an excess of omega-6, can lead to inflammation and contribute to chronic diseases. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times per week as part of a heart-healthy diet.

Palmitoleic acid is a unique MUFA because it also acts as a lipokine, a molecule that influences the metabolism of other types of fats and has anti-inflammatory effects. Research such as that published in Lipids in Health and Disease suggests that palmitoleic acid could potentially play a role in reducing inflammation and the risk of metabolic syndromes.

When comparing these fats, remember that context matters. A diet high in saturated fat can be problematic, especially when combined with a sedentary lifestyle and high intake of processed foods. However, including a variety of fats in your diet - prioritizing MUFAs and PUFAs while not entirely excluding saturated fats – could contribute to a more balanced and potentially healthful diet.

In conclusion, understanding each fat's role and the current scientific discourse is crucial when considering the incorporation of palmitoleic acid into a health-conscious diet. While MUFAs, including palmitoleic acid, are generally associated with positive health outcomes, balancing intake with other fats is key to optimizing health benefits.

Palmitoleic Acid's Role in Inflammation and Heart Health

Palmitoleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid, has been a topic of research for its potential role in modulating inflammation and influencing heart health. To understand its impact, we need to delve into the intricacies of how this fatty acid operates within the body and its interaction with inflammatory processes and cardiovascular function.

Firstly, palmitoleic acid is an omega-7 fatty acid, which can be synthesized endogenously or obtained through dietary sources like macadamia nuts and seafood. Its relationship with inflammation is rather nuanced. On one hand, some studies suggest palmitoleic acid may have anti-inflammatory properties. For instance, a study published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry indicated that it can act similarly to omega-3 fatty acids, potentially downregulating inflammation by influencing the production of inflammatory biomarkers.

More specifically, researchers have noted palmitoleic acid's ability to reduce C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6), markers associated with inflammation. Reduction in these markers could theoretically imply a lesser risk for chronic diseases linked to inflammatory states, including heart disease. Simultaneously, studies have demonstrated palmitoleic acid's potential to improve lipid profiles by raising high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and lowering triglycerides, further alluding to a protective cardiovascular role.

However, the scientific narrative is not entirely clear-cut. Other research presents contrasting findings, where increased levels of palmitoleic acid, particularly from endogenous production, have been related to adverse metabolic consequences that could precipitate inflammation. Elevated palmitoleic acid levels have been associated with higher body fat and insulin resistance, conditions that are typically pro-inflammatory and can negatively impact heart health.

But what does this all mean for the individual considering palmitoleic acid supplementation or increasing dietary intake? Here, we must take into account the balance and context of the overall diet and lifestyle. Consumption of palmitoleic acid within a balanced diet rich in a variety of fatty acids, like the Mediterranean diet, may be supportive of anti-inflammatory processes and cardiovascular health. On the other hand, excessive intake or in the context of an unhealthy dietary pattern could potentially tip the scales towards inflammation.

It's also critical to consider the source of palmitoleic acid. Dietary sources that carry additional nutrients may confer a vastly different health impact than isolated supplements. The quality and processing of these supplements can likewise influence their potential effects on the body.

Ultimately, it's clear that more research is needed to fully elucidate the effect of palmitoleic acid on inflammation and heart health. Pending such evidence, it's advisable for individuals to focus on a varied diet that includes a balance of different fats, rather than overly concentrating on any one particular fatty acid. Those with existing health conditions or who are considering supplementation should consult with a healthcare provider to evaluate the potential benefits and risks within the context of their personal health profile.

-- Studies and Expert Opinions --

  • Gomes, A.P., Duarte, F.V., Nunes, P., Hubbard, B.P., Teodoro, J.S., Varela, A.T., ... & Sinclair, D.A. (2017). Berberine protects against high fat diet-induced dysfunction in muscle mitochondria by inducing SIRT1-dependent mitochondrial biogenesis. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 39, 120-128.
  • Yang, Z.H., Miyahara, H., Hatanaka, A. (2011). Chronic administration of palmitoleic acid reduces insulin resistance and hepatic lipid accumulation in KK-Ay Mice with genetic type 2 diabetes. Lipids in Health and Disease, 10, 120.
  • Cao, H., Gerhold, K., Mayers, J.R., Wiest, M.M., Watkins, S.M., & Hotamisligil, G.S. (2008). Identification of a lipokine, a lipid hormone linking adipose tissue to systemic metabolism. Cell, 134(6), 933-944.

Effects of Palmitoleic Acid on Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic Syndrome is a cluster of conditions—increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels—that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Palmitoleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA), may have several implications for individuals dealing with this syndrome. Let's delve into the research to unpack the potential effects of palmitoleic acid on Metabolic Syndrome components:

  • Impact on Insulin Sensitivity: A study published in the journal Lipids found that intake of palmitoleic acid improved insulin sensitivity in mice. Human studies are less clear, but there's a suggestion that higher levels of palmitoleic acid in the diet could be linked to better insulin sensitivity, possibly due to its status as a lipokine—a fat-derived molecule with hormone-like activity affecting metabolism.
  • Influence on Cholesterol Levels: Research indicates mixed effects. While some studies, like a 2015 review in the journal Nutrients, show palmitoleic acid may help to raise HDL (good cholesterol) levels, other research points towards it also potentially increasing LDL (bad cholesterol) when not balanced with other, less saturated fats.
  • Effect on Blood Pressure: Findings about palmitoleic acid’s impact on blood pressure are currently insufficient. Although MUFA-rich diets generally promote heart health and may aid blood pressure control, specific evidence for palmitoleic acid is sparse and warrants further investigation.
  • Role in Reducing Inflammation: A core component of Metabolic Syndrome is inflammation. Palmitoleic acid has been observed to have anti-inflammatory properties, according to a study in the journal Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids. This could theoretically reduce the risk of cardiovascular events and contribute to Metabolic Syndrome management.
  • Impact on Body Fat Distribution: Excessive central adiposity is a hallmark of Metabolic Syndrome. A study from the journal Obesity showed that a diet high in palmitoleic acid may lead to reduced abdominal fat accumulation in rodents. The question of whether this translates effectively into humans remains unanswered.

It is important to note that many of the studies in this field are preliminary and often conducted on animal models. Human studies are needed to draw more definitive conclusions about palmitoleic acid's role in managing Metabolic Syndrome. It is also crucial for individuals to consider palmitoleic acid within the context of their entire dietary pattern rather than in isolation.

Lastly, while palmitoleic acid can be consumed through diet—found in macadamia nuts, sea buckthorn oil, and some fish—its concentration in supplements varies, and the long-term effects of supplementation are unknown. As with any dietary change or supplementation, consulting with a healthcare provider, especially for individuals with existing health conditions like Metabolic Syndrome, is advisable.

The Conundrum of Palmitoleic Acid in Various Diets

When exploring the role of palmitoleic acid in various dietary patterns, it's essential to unfold the layers of complexity around this monounsaturated fatty acid. Palmitoleic acid, also known as omega-7, is not as well-researched as its cousins omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, but it's starting to garner attention for its potential health benefits and risks.

First, let's address its presence in different diets. Palmitoleic acid is found naturally in several food sources, such as macadamia nuts, sea buckthorn oil, and some fish species. It's also present in the human body's adipose tissue and produced endogenously as a byproduct of the metabolism of palmitic acid—a saturated fat.

  • Macadamia nuts: Rich in palmitoleic acid, also contain beneficial micronutrients.
  • Sea buckthorn oil: High in omega-7 and other bioactive compounds like vitamins and antioxidants.
  • Fatty fish: Contains omega-7 alongside heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Contemplating the Mediterranean diet, often hailed for its cardiovascular benefits, we observe a good balance of monounsaturated fats, including palmitoleic acid, primarily from olive oil and nuts. This diet, high in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats, could potentially provide palmitoleic acid in a context that supports overall health.

In contrast, the ketogenic diet, which is high in fats and low in carbohydrates, may inadvertently increase palmitoleic acid intake through high consumption of certain nuts and fatty fish. The ketogenic diet's impact on heart health is still hotly debated, and the role of palmitoleic acid within this diet is a piece of an intricate puzzle that requires more research.

Vegetarian and vegan diets pose a different conundrum. With the exclusion of fish, these dieters may have lower intakes of palmitoleic acid. However, they can still obtain it through plant-based sources like macadamia nuts and some seed oils. The balance and ratio of fatty acids in these diets are critical factors in evaluating the potential health impacts.

The standard American diet, which is often criticized for being high in saturated fats and processed foods, may provide palmitoleic acid through these unhealthier avenues. The concern here is not palmitoleic acid itself, but the potential association with unhealthy dietary patterns that predispose individuals to a myriad of health issues, including cardiovascular disease and obesity.

Research suggests that palmitoleic acid could have a role in lipid metabolism, inflammation modulation, and insulin sensitivity. A study published in Journal of Clinical Lipidology found that palmitoleic acid may be a beneficial component for managing hypertriglyceridemia and reducing cardiovascular risk. However, more studies are necessary to form a definitive conclusion.

When scrutinizing palmitoleic acid and its compatibility with various diets, one must not fall into the trap of oversimplification. The interplay between different types of fats, the overall nutritional composition of the diet, and individual metabolic health are all crucial aspects to consider before reaching any conclusions about the health implications of palmitoleic acid.

Balancing Fatty Acids: Achieving the Right Intake for Optimal Health

Fatty acids are a fundamental part of our diet, crucial for maintaining good health. However, the mere presence of fatty acids in our diet isn't enough; how they balance in terms of saturated, monounsaturated (such as palmitoleic acid), and polyunsaturated fats is what truly counts. Achieving the right intake of these fats is essential, yet it requires more than just picking olive oil over butter—it demands a comprehensive understanding of fatty acid profiles and their respective roles in the body.

Firstly, let's clarify the position of palmitoleic acid in the fat family tree. Palmitoleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid, which has been associated with several health benefits. Unlike its saturated counterpart, palmitic acid, palmitoleic acid is thought to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation. However, as with any nutrient, the dose makes the poison. Excessive consumption of palmitoleic acid, typically found in animal products and some seafood, can upset the body's fatty acid harmony and potentially lead to health issues.

To maintain this crucial balance, nutritionists often refer to the concept of an ideal "omega ratio"—the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Current Western diets are frequently heavy in omega-6 fatty acids, which, while essential, can promote inflammation when they overshadow omega-3s. Palmitoleic acid fits into this puzzle by potentially acting as a mediator; it's neither pro-inflammatory like some omega-6s nor anti-inflammatory like omega-3s, but it can influence the body's inflammatory response.

Here are some key points for achieving a balanced intake of fatty acids, including palmitoleic acid:

  • Educate on Sources: Recognise food sources rich in monounsaturated fats such as nuts, avocados, and certain fish, and understand that palmitoleic acid often comes bundled with other fats in these foods.
  • Monitor Quantities: Keep track of how much palmitoleic acid you consume, ideally through natural sources rather than supplements, as overconsumption may lead to an imbalance.
  • Consider the Omega Ratio: Strive for a healthier balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Consuming more omega-3 rich foods, like flaxseed and fatty fish, can help correct imbalances associated with high omega-6 consumption.
  • Limit Saturated and Trans Fats: Cutting down on these can reduce cardiovascular risks and make room for healthier fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in your diet.

Experts suggest an individualized approach to fatty acid balance. A 2015 review published in the journal Biochimie emphasized the importance of considering genetic variability when determining the optimal dietary fat composition for an individual. Additionally, the American Heart Association recommends that monounsaturated fats make up 15 to 20% of your total calorie intake. However, palmitoleic acid intake should be approached with moderation within this category.

As an evidence-driven nutritionist, it is crucial to remember that while the nuances of palmitoleic acid's impact on health are still being understood, the overriding principle remains clear: a balanced intake of varied fats is paramount for optimal health. In conclusion, while palmitoleic acid is not inherently bad, it must exist in a healthy ratio with other fatty acids to contribute positively to our well-being.

Frequently asked questions

Currently, there is limited data on the interactions of palmitoleic acid with medications. Nevertheless, because of its potential influence on blood lipid levels and blood sugar regulation, palmitoleic acid could interact with medications intended for treating high cholesterol, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Always disclose your supplement use to your healthcare provider, especially if you are on medication, to avoid any unintended interactions.

Palmitoleic acid supplements should not be considered a complete substitute for dietary intake. While they can provide concentrated amounts of this monounsaturated fatty acid, they may lack the other nutrients found in whole food sources like macadamia nuts, fatty fish, and avocados. Obtaining palmitoleic acid from diverse foods ensures a more holistic intake of various beneficial fats and other micronutrients. Always consult with a healthcare provider before starting any supplementation.

Palmitoleic acid, as a monounsaturated fat, shares similar heart-health benefits with other MUFAs, such as oleic acid found in olive oil. It is associated with improved blood lipid profiles and may have positive effects on insulin sensitivity, both of which are important for heart health. However, the full extent of its benefits and the optimal amounts for heart health are still under investigation, as current research is mixed and further studies are needed.

Individuals with high cholesterol should approach the consumption of palmitoleic acid with attention to its source and the overall fatty acid balance in their diet. Palmitoleic acid, as part of a diet rich in monounsaturated fats, may help improve the lipid profile by increasing HDL cholesterol and potentially reducing LDL cholesterol levels when balanced with other healthy fats. It's essential to consult a healthcare provider for personalized dietary advice in the context of high cholesterol.

Ask a question about Palmitoleic Acid and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Commonly found in

  • macadamia nuts
  • sea buckthorn oil
  • fatty fish
  • full-fat dairy products
  • avocado


  • anti-inflammatory effects
  • improved insulin sensitivity
  • better lipid profiles
  • anti-inflammatory properties
  • reduced risk of chronic diseases
  • potential role in managing metabolic syndrome

Healthier alternatives

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Joey Conners
Published on: 02-28-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Joey Conners
Published on: 02-28-2024

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