Bottlenose dolphins in the wild and under human care can develop metabolic syndrome, which is similar to prediabetes in humans. Nutrition research led by the National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF) and in collaboration with the SDRP resulted in the discovery of a saturated fatty acid in fish that appears to reverse metabolic syndrome in dolphins.
Metabolic syndrome is a subclinical condition involving blood changes, including elevated insulin, lipids, and ferritin. Today in the U.S., one in every three adults has metabolic syndrome. Because of the increasing human health interest in fish-based omega-3 fatty acids, we measured 55 fatty acids in 49 dolphins (19 from Sarasota Bay and 30 from the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program), as well as in their different dietary fish types. Dolphins with higher blood levels of C17:0 (also called heptadecanoic acid) were more likely to have lower, healthier insulin and ferritin. Interestingly, fish types commonly eaten by Sarasota Bay dolphins (pinfish and mullet) had relatively high C17:0 content compared to other fish types. When we fed dolphins a diet higher in C17:0, their serum ferritin decreased within 3 weeks, insulin sensitivity increased within 12 weeks, and insulin, glucose, and lipids normalized within 6 months. This Office of Naval Research funded discovery was published in PLOS ONE during July 2015 and was highlighted on National Public Radio’s Science Friday. While continuing to understand how changes in the ocean and prey influence C17:0 availability in fish, NMMF is also collaborating with children’s hospitals to assess the ability to reverse metabolic syndrome in children by providing a diet higher in C17:0.
This article appeared on page 13 in the December 2015 issue of Nicks n Notches.