The New York Times Highlights Discovery of a Healthy Fat to Slow Aging

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Initially discovered while helping older dolphins, C15:0, a new essential fatty acid, may slow down aging

This week, a New York Times-featured science article included the discovery of a healthy fat that may help slow down aging. This surprising finding was made by a veterinary epidemiologist while studying how to improve the health and well-being of Navy dolphins.

The New York Times article, by Emily Anthes, focuses on what dolphins–fellow large-brained and long-lived mammals–can teach us about human aging. The piece highlights Dr. Stephanie Venn-Watson’s decades-long research on why different groups of Navy dolphins had different rates of aging. Importantly, she and her team were able to reverse a key biomarker of aging by increasing dolphins’ dietary intake of C15:0, a newly discovered essential odd-chain saturated fatty acid.

"We are thrilled to see this important discovery included in The New York Times, one of the world’s leading sources for groundbreaking science news," said Dr. Stephanie Venn-Watson, co-founder and CEO of Seraphina Therapeutics. “While we all know people who seem to age faster than others,” said Dr. Venn-Watson, “the dolphins not only helped to confirm this phenomenon, but they also unlocked the secret of how we could actively slow down the aging process.”

In 2020, Dr. Venn-Watson’s peer-reviewed study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that a key biomarker––hemoglobin––could be used to identify slow and fast aging dolphins; fast aging dolphins saw a steady decline in hemoglobin over their lifetime, while slow aging dolphins held relatively stable hemoglobin, even into their oldest years.

In humans, low hemoglobin is routinely used by physicians to detect anemia of aging, which affects more than 1-in-10 people over 60 years old, and 40% of these cases remain unexplained. Since hemoglobin in red blood cells is needed to deliver oxygen from our lungs to our tissues, this biomarker of fast and slow aging holds clinically relevant significance.

Dr. Venn-Watson then discovered that a diet containing higher amounts of C15:0 actually improved hemoglobin in dolphins. As published in PLOS ONE, elevated C15:0 levels effectively alleviated chronic anemia in fast aging dolphins. Dr. Venn-Watson went on to show that pure C15:0 supplementation had this same meaningful effect of raising hemoglobin and treating anemia in relevant models.

“These studies suggest that nutritional factors influencing aging rate biomarkers, including declining hemoglobin and anemia, may be targeted to delay the effects of aging in a compelling and relevant population,” said Dr. Nicholas Schork, a leader in longevity and co-author of the PNAS paper.

The science supporting C15:0’s potential to slow down aging has been mounting since Dr. Venn-Watson’s initial discoveries. Typically, the aging process is defined by nine “hallmarks of aging”, and pure C15:0 has been shown to directly address at least four of these hallmarks.

Specifically, C15:0 is able to address hallmarks of aging by:

  • Increasing cellular stability and repairing mitochondrial function to reverse age-related breakdown
  • Improving cellular signaling by naturally activating receptors called PPAR alpha and delta, which balance metabolism and immunity
  • Serving as an HDAC inhibitor, which can help repair damaged DNA and stop proliferation of cancerous cells

The many demonstrated age-slowing benefits of C15:0 have culminated in the recognition of C15:0 as the first essential fatty acid to be found since omega-3, which was over 90 years ago. The essentiality of C15:0 is underlined by numerous studies now linking higher C15:0 levels to lower risks of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. When compared to the purest, highest performing omega-3 (EPA), C15:0 demonstrated three times more cellular benefits and repaired more cell types. This latest study, which also showed that C15:0 has relevant antidepressant, antimicrobial, and anticancer activities, suggests that C15:0 may be the essential, essential fatty acid.

“Our decades-long journey, from helping dolphins age healthier to discovering C15:0 as an essential fatty acid to slow aging, is rapidly gaining momentum. And urgency,” said Dr. Venn-Watson.

A growing body of science now supports that nutritional C15:0 deficiencies may be driving the global rise in cardiometabolic conditions, including type 2 diabetes and NAFLD, a liver condition that affects 1 in 3 people globally. The rise in NAFLD has been particularly alarming due to this disease’s causal role in liver cirrhosis and cancer. NAFLD is rapidly becoming the leading cause of liver transplants globally.

“While observed age-related declines in C15:0 levels have been concerning, the good news is that these deficiencies can be fixed,” said Dr. Venn-Watson. “With the recent New York Times story, our movement to improve global health - one person and dolphin at a time - is well underway.”

The New York Times article can be read in full here.

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