Small but mighty: the fatty acid that packs a considerable longevity punch

Fatty15 CEO Stephanie Venn-Watson on why accidental discoveries can actually be the best ones when it comes to longevity.

Fatty15 is a longevity supplement centered around a very simple fatty acid that was discovered as a result of studying health data of US Navy dolphins and which has led to decades of accepted nutritional guidance being called into question. This super nutrient is called C15:0.

As a stable fatty acid, C15:0 is readily integrated into cell membranes, making cells more resilient against breakdown. It attenuates multiple hallmarks of aging, including cellular senescence, inflammaging, mitochondrial dysfunction and poor cellular signaling. 

Longevity.Technology: Humans don’t make enough C15:0, so we need to get adequate amounts from our diet or through supplementation. However, saturated fats have been demonized for decades, being blamed for high cholesterol and heart disease. We sat down with Stephanie Venn-Watson, DVM, MPH, the Co-Founder and CEO of fatty15 to find out why the dietary guidelines on fatty acids need to be revisited, how the discovery of C15:0 and its longevity benefits came about, and the role C15:0 can play in menopause and more.

Stephanie Venn-Watson on…

Not all saturated fats are created equal

Since the late 1970s, we’ve been told to decrease the intake of all saturated fats, most of which come from dairy fat. That has resulted in us decreasing our intake of cow’s milk and whole dairy fat, but what we’ve learned since then is that not all saturated fats are created equally. There are actually two main types of saturated fats,  called odd-chain and even-chain saturated fatty acids 

What numerous studies have shown repeatedly is that odd-chain saturated fats like C15:0 and C17:0, have beneficial activities and are constantly associated with better health, including a lower risk of type two diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease. Meanwhile, the proinflammatory even-chain saturated fats like C16:0 and C18:0, which are high in milk and butter, do the opposite – they are associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease. 

So, the take-home point is that we were partly right, but we kind of threw out the baby with the bathwater. When we removed all saturated fats, we learned the consequences of taking C15:0 out of our diets, too.

Dolphins led the way

C15:0 is such a simple molecule – it’s just 15 carbons strung together in a straight chain with no double bonds. It’s remarkable how we have evolved to use C15:0, not only to protect our healthspan, but our longevity as well.

While we were  making the initial discovery that the healthiest aging dolphins have higher C15:0 levels, others were finding the same associations in people.   We moved pure C15:0 into the lab to understand how C15:0 works. And that’s where we discovered that C15:0 does three main things at the cellular level that really support long-term healthy aging. The first discovery, which is probably its most important role, is that C15:0 is a sturdy fatty acid that goes into our cell membranes and protects our cells against aging-related breakdown. Each cell is protected by two layers of lipids that create our cell membrane, and the strength and integrity of our cells and therefore us, is completely dependent upon how strong our cell membranes are. C15:0 plays this incredibly simple and important role of acting like bricks within our cell membranes that helps stabilize them. They’re highly resistant to oxidative stress, to attack by external breakdown, and it literally makes our cells stronger for longer so that our cells can function. 

The second important activity that C15:0 does, which also targets a key hallmark of aging and is so important for longevity, is that it repairs mitochondrial function. It is important to keep those cell energy makers within our cells up and running and generating ATP. 

The third core C15:0 activity  that supports our healthspan and lifespan is C15:0’s ability to support healthy cellular signaling. Relevant to longevity, C15:0 both activates AMPK and inhibits mTOR, which are the holy grails of longevity and are core to protecting our long-term health.  We published in Scientific Reports that C15:0 is not only an active and beneficial fatty acid, it’s the first essential fatty acid to be discovered in over 90 years since omega-3. It has been really exciting that caring for dolphins has led to this groundbreaking discovery!

The appliance of science

A clinical trial was published on C15:0 in November, which was really exciting. This trial included women with fatty liver disease, and there were three groups: one was put on a low calorie diet of 1,500 calories, the second had a low calorie diet that followed Mediterranean diet guidelines, and the third had a low calorie Mediterranean diet plus C15:0 supplementation. :The study’s goals basically said: “OK, C15:0, let’s see what you can do in the face of other benefits that you’re clearly going to get from eating less calories and a Mediterranean diet.” 

The study found that C15:0 helped above and beyond the benefits of eating less calories and the Mediterranean diet, including lowering LDL cholesterol and showing the greatest loss in body fat [1]. Those supplemented with pure C15:0 also developed a healthier microbiome including increased growth of a bacterium called Bifidobacterium adolescentis, which, interestingly, is a gut bacterium that has been shown to increase longevity in multiple species. 

Results from another clinical trial with C15:0 supplementation will be coming out soon. This trial was led by Dr Jeff Schwimmer at UC San Diego and Rady Children’s Hospital, focusing on metabolic syndrome and fatty liver disease in young adults. So stay tuned for those results – they should be out this year!