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Experts Say Essential Fatty Acids Help Burn Fat and Boost Liver Health

Ever wonder how your great-grandmother ate cream and butter constantly, but still managed to stay so thin? Or how French women consume baguettes by the boatload and don’t seem to gain weight? Meanwhile, the number on the scale doesn’t change even when you snack on rice cakes and limit your salad dressing to one lousy teaspoon per giant bowl of lettuce? The answer to these questions might be found in a surprising population: dolphins.

When veterinarian epidemiologist and public health scientist Stephanie Venn-Watson, DVM, MPH, studied the US Navy’s population of geriatric dolphins, she noticed something interesting: The mammals that stayed healthiest the longest, maintaining their weight and dodging fatty liver disease, were those with high levels of a saturated fatty acid called C15:0 (also called C15) in their diet. Surprised, she teamed up with fatty-liver experts and ran tests to determine if the same was true in humans. The findings were nothing short of spectacular: In a lab model, C15 did, in fact, halt liver damage in humans. “We turned the world of fatty liver research on its head,” she says. “It all started because we wanted to help dolphins, and then dolphins taught us something that’s helping us.”

Found in fish, plants, and full-fat dairy foods, C15 was only recently added to the list of known essential fatty acids. (Prior to its discovery, a “new” essential fatty acid had not been discovered in 90 years.) And it couldn’t have come at a better time. Since 1980, cases of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) have skyrocketed. Says Dr. Venn-Watson, “The rise in fatty liver in the past 40 years coincides with Americans reducing their intake of top C15-containing foods like whole milk.” Her theory: “C15 deficiencies are a cause of NAFLD!”

“I tell patients looking to lose weight not to worry about consuming whole-fat dairy products like cheese, yogurt and milk,” echoes UCSF’s Ronald Krauss, MD, a leader in fatty acid research. “I’ve been working to get people unhooked from the idea that all saturated fatty acids are bad. C15 is a clear example of one that’s really good, with the potential to improve health and prevent disease.”

C15 heals the liver so that it can break down fat and remove metabolism slowing toxins — an effect that helps shed pounds. It also activates cell receptors that regulate appetite. Plus, it’s believed to work magic on mitochondria, the energy factories inside our cells that play a role in fat burn, aging, and health. Says Dr. Krauss, “C15 seems to do so much of what you’d want from a health standpoint. The range of possible health effects is almost unbelievable!”

How To Add Essential Fatty Acids to Your Diet

The even better news is that it’s easy to add C15 to your diet. The secret? Enjoying full-fat dairy foods like mashed potatoes and cheesecake. In addition to delivering C15, these foods contain conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), another slimming fatty acid with impressive benefits. In a study out of Tennessee in the journal Obesity, women who made no changes other than eating 3 servings of dairy a day lost more fat than those who limited dairy.

The perks go beyond slimming: Several studies link higher levels of fatty acids to lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol. And while research is ongoing, Dr. Krauss says, “We don’t want to have everyone wait 20 years to get the body of clinical evidence needed to change dietary guidelines.”

Whole-fat dairy foods do not cause weight gain, confirms Tufts University researchers. Quite the opposite: Dairy consumption reduces body fat and increases lean body mass. And here’s a second helping of good news: C15 is a powerful tool for ridding the liver of the metabolism-stalling fat that clogs the liver. It also supports other health functions that speed slimming. Nutrition expert Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, author of Radical Metabolism (Buy from Amazon, $17.99), cheers, “C15 looks very promising in regard to health and weight-loss goals!”

The new research into C15 joins existing studies that prove the weight-loss powers of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), another fatty acid found in full-fat dairy foods. Case in point: An Ohio State University study found that postmenopausal women who weren’t dieting lost more fat when they were given CLA.

On this simple plan, you’ll reach for foods and supplements rich in fatty acids. Strive for three whole-food meals per day (plus a snack), focusing on rich protein sources. What that looks like: oatmeal made with creamy whole milk for breakfast; taco salad loaded with veggies, cheese, and ground beef for lunch; and lamb stew for dinner.

Indulge in your favorite foods.

Fatty acids like fat-burning CLA and liver-protecting C15 are so important that scientists have deemed them “essential” for health. But the body doesn’t make these nutrients, so you have to seek them out. Here’s how.

Butter that bread: “Research shows that in regions with the highest CLA intake, people stay lean despite rich meals,” notes Dr. Gittleman. For that reason, she advises enjoying 2 to 3 servings of full-fat dairy each day. “Butter or cream are the highest sources,” she says, adding that organic, grass-fed sources boast nearly twice the amount of CLA. Other foods rich in CLA and C15: whole milk and melty cheeses like Swiss, Colby, and pecorino.

Choose these meats: “We often hear that meat is fattening or unhealthy, so we shy away,” says Dr. Gittleman. But C15 and CLA are abundant in juicy meats, so she suggests enjoying top sources like ground beef, turkey, lamb, and sausage.

Opt for supplements.

Don’t love dairy? It’s easy to boost levels of slimming fatty acids by taking convenient supplements, either alone or combined with full-fat food sources. Focus on C15 if you’re concerned about liver health, and CLA if your focus is on shedding belly fat.

Heal your liver to slim quickly: After her groundbreaking research revealed the power of C15, Dr. Venn-Watson created a 100 milligram (mg) C15:0 once-a-day capsule. She and her physician husband realized, “We have a moral obligation to get this out to the world.” She adds, “Research supports that C15 is not just associated with better health, but it’s the cause of better lasting health.” Dr. Krauss adds, “The range of health effects is almost unbelievable!” Find Dr. Venn-Watson’s product Fatty15 at

Choose the master fat blaster: To target belly fat without making any other dietary or exercise changes, reach for CLA. Dr. Gittleman recommends taking 3,000 mg daily if you have less than 30 pounds to lose, and 6,000 mg daily if you have more than 30 pounds to lose. Try: Uni Key CLA- 1000, currently 20 percent off for FIRST readers at with code: CLA20.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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