Fatty acid discovery is a fluke for longevity

For years, science has been advocating less saturated fat, but a fatty acid discovery turned that on its head. And it all starts with dolphins…

Supplements often have interesting origin stories – molecules from vegetables we eat regularly (sulforaphane) or named for what they were first found in (spermidine) – but C15:0 beats them hands down. Or is that flippers down..?

The story begins when veterinary epidemiologist Dr Stephanie Venn-Watson was working to improve the health of older dolphins as part of the US Navy Marine Mammal Program; while studying health data from a half-century longitudinal cohort of the Navy’s long-lived, large brained dolphins, she made an intriguing discovery – dolphins pods in Florida had fewer aging-related conditions than pods in California. Venn-Watson discovered an odd-chain saturated fat in the dolphins’ all-fish diets predicted the healthiest aging individuals, and increasing dolphins’ dietary levels of this saturated fat alleviated anemia [1], a biomarker of accelerated aging in dolphins [2], and stabilized age-related conditions, with researchers observing a 72% improvement in cellular stability [3]. This led her to discover the first essential fatty acid to be found in 90 years – C15:0.

Longevity.Technology: The age-related conditions reduced by C15:0 in dolphins are the same as those that are the precursors to diabetes, heart disease and stroke in humans. So, what makes C15:0 so effective? C15:0 is a fatty acid, like omega-3 and omega-6, but unlike them, C15:0 has no double bonds in its main chain, making it a resilient molecule that is resistant to oxidation [4]. C15:0 is also an odd chain saturated fatty acid of a type consistently associated with lower risks of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and fatty liver disease [4]. This all sounds great, but the catch is we don’t make C15:0, so we need to get enough from our diet or through supplementation.

We needed to find out more about C15:0 and a new supplement based on this fatty acid, so we sat down with Stephanie Venn-Watson, DVM, MPH, the Co-Founder and CEO of fatty15 and Eric Venn-Watson, MD, MBA, Co-Founder and COO of fatty15.

Fatty acids have been demonized for decades; after red flags were raised about saturated fats in our diet over 40 years ago, health programs and practitioners have advised avoiding them, but instead of seeing improved global health, say the Venn-Watsons, there has been a rise in type-2 diabetes, heart disease, liver disease and specific types of cancer, especially among younger people. 

“Mounting science now supports that we accidentally caused nutritional deficiencies of C15:0, a healthy and essential saturated fat,” explains Stephanie Venn-Watson. “In turn, these nutritional C15:0 deficiencies may actually be increasing our risk of getting the very diseases we were trying to avoid.”

It turns out it’s good to be odd; Venn-Watson explains that even-chain saturated fatty acids have an even number of carbon atoms, and these fatty acids (especially C16:0 and C18:0) are consistently associated with the negative health markers that make us avoid saturated fats.

“These health markers include increased risks for heart disease, inflammation and type 2 diabetes,” she says. “Even-chain saturated fatty acids are found in red meat, full fat dairy, and palm oil.

“Odd-chain saturated fatty acids, however, have an odd number of carbon atoms in their molecular structure and are actually associated with a lower risk of heart disease, inflammation, and type 2 diabetes. Odd-chain saturated fatty acids, including C15:0 and C17:0, can be found in the same foods as even-chain saturated fatty acids, which makes it difficult to get the good saturated fatty acids without the bad.”

Fatty acid discovery is a fluke for longevity
Co-Founders of fatty15: Stephanie Venn-Watson, CEO (L) and Eric Venn-Watson, COO (R)

Eric Venn-Watson adds that decreased population-wide intake of whole fat dairy products has resulted in declining C15:0 levels – which have coincided with an increase in multiple chronic diseases. Furthermore, C15:0 levels decline with advanced age, which may further accelerate aging rates. 

“While the current global prevalence of people with type-2 diabetes (537 million), cardiovascular disease (523 million), and cancer (18 million) are high, these trends are expected to worsen without interventions that are practical, accessible, safe, and relevant to large populations,” he explains. “Science to date supports that replenishing populationwide C15:0 levels may help restore global health.”

Aging is a two-edged sword; as we age, our cells become more prone to damage but the repair process slows down and becomes less effective. How can C15:0 help? Because it is a stable fatty acid that is readily integrated into our cell membranes, C15:0 can make our cells more resilient against breakdown; evolution has used stable fats in cell membranes to help extend longevity, a theory called the Cell Membrane Pacemaker Theory of Aging that explains why albatrosses live longer than chickens and why humans and dolphins live longer than mice [5]. 

“In addition to directly stabilizing cell membranes, C15:0 attenuates multiple hallmarks of aging, including cellular senescence, inflammaging, mitochondrial dysfunction and poor cellular signaling,” explains Stephanie Venn-Watson. “Specifically, the pure C15:0 fatty acid in fatty15 has been shown in peer-reviewed studies to strengthen cell membranes, repair mitochondrial function and improve cellular signaling (including activating PPARɑ/δ and AMPK receptors and inhibiting mTOR) – these are well-established targets to lower inflammation, regulate glucose, stem cellular senescence, and decrease proliferation of cancer cells.”

While fatty15 was developed to support long-term metabolic, heart, liver and immune health, and not intended as a weight loss supplement or a substitute for cholesterol-lowering medications, Eric Venn-Watson explains that about half of people taking fatty15 report increased energy throughout the day, better sleep, or less snacking between meals within a fortnight.

“Additionally, C15:0 naturally activates key receptors and pathways, including PPARs and AMPK, that help to regulate our cholesterol and glucose metabolism,” he says. “This helps to explain why daily fatty15 supplementation helped to promote and maintain healthy glucose and cholesterol homeostasis in relevant models, and why higher circulating levels of C15:0 in people have been consistently associated with good metabolic health.”

In the post-COVID world, people are looking for supplements that can boost the immune system, but, as Eric Venn-Watson explains, balance is key.

As we age, our immune system actually tends to ramp up, leading to a chronic, low lying state of inflammation,” he explains, referring to inflammaging, a key hallmark of aging that drives the onset or progression of many chronic conditions, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. “The pure C15:0 ingredient in fatty15 effectively lowers 18+ pro-inflammatory cytokines to help calm overactive immune responses and keep our immune system properly balanced.”

The Venn-Watsons are keen to spread the word about the newest-discovered member of the essential fatty acid family and are initiating an education campaign to increase health care providers’ and consumers’ awareness of C15:0, discuss the science behind fatty15 and explain how fatty15 can deliver this essential nutrient and support long-term health and wellness. In addition, Seraphina will be expanding fatty15 as a food and beverage ingredient to support healthy aging.

There is also a randomized, double-blinded and placebo controlled clinical trial with fatty15 underway at the University of California San Diego and Rady Children’s Hospital [6], and fatty15 is being benchmarked to three leading longevity drug candidates (rapamycin, metformin and acarbose), using extensive cell-based phenotypic profiles.

[1] https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0230769 
[2] https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.1918755117  
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9399118/
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9135213/
[5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15757684/
[6] https://clinicaltrials.gov/study/NCT04947176  

Photograph: nualaimages/Envato / Seraphina Therapeutics