Circulating palmitoleic acid and risk of metabolic abnormalities and new-onset diabetes

Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Dec;92(6):1350-8. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.003970. Epub 2010 Oct 13.


Background: Animal experiments suggest that circulating palmitoleic acid (cis-16:1n-7) from adipocyte de novo fatty acid synthesis may directly regulate insulin resistance and metabolic dysregulation.

Objective: We investigated the independent determinants of circulating palmitoleate in free-living humans and whether palmitoleate is related to lower metabolic risk and the incidence of diabetes.

Design: In a prospective cohort of 3630 US men and women in the Cardiovascular Health Study, plasma phospholipid fatty acids, anthropometric variables, blood lipids, inflammatory markers, and glucose and insulin concentrations were measured between 1992 and 2006 by using standardized methods. Independent determinants of plasma phospholipid palmitoleate and relations of palmitoleate with metabolic risk factors were investigated by using multivariable-adjusted linear regression. Relations with incident diabetes (296 incident cases) were investigated by using Cox proportional hazards.

Results: The mean (± SD) palmitoleate value was 0.49 ± 0.20% (range: 0.11-2.55%) of total fatty acids. Greater body mass index, carbohydrate intake, protein intake, and alcohol use were each independent lifestyle correlates of higher palmitoleate concentrations. In multivariable analyses that adjusted for these factors and other potential confounders, higher palmitoleate concentrations were independently associated with lower LDL cholesterol (P < 0.001), higher HDL cholesterol (P < 0.001), lower total:HDL-cholesterol ratio (P = 0.04), and lower fibrinogen (P < 0.001). However, palmitoleate was also associated with higher triglycerides (P < 0.001) and (in men only) with greater insulin resistance (P < 0.001). Palmitoleate was not significantly associated with incident diabetes.

Conclusions: Adiposity (energy imbalance), carbohydrate consumption, and alcohol use-even within typical ranges-are associated with higher circulating palmitoleate concentrations. Circulating palmitoleate is robustly associated with multiple metabolic risk factors but in mixed directions, perhaps related to divergent lifestyle determinants or endogenous sources (liver, adipose tissue) of fatty acid synthesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alcohol Drinking / blood
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cholesterol / blood
  • Cholesterol, HDL / blood
  • Diabetes Mellitus / blood*
  • Diet
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / administration & dosage*
  • Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated / blood*
  • Female
  • Fibrinogen / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Life Style
  • Lipids / blood*
  • Male
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Triglycerides / blood


  • Cholesterol, HDL
  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated
  • Lipids
  • Triglycerides
  • palmitoleic acid
  • Fibrinogen
  • Cholesterol