Lipid in Butter and Whole Fat Milk May Decrease Risk of Pre-Diabetes

Dr. Stephanie K. Venn-Watson Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, MS Director, Translational Medicine and Research Program National Marine Mammal Interview with:
Dr. Stephanie K. Venn-Watson
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, MS
Director, Translational Medicine and Research Program
National Marine Mammal Foundation



Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Venn-Watson: Bottlenose dolphins, just like people, can develop a condition called metabolic syndrome. In humans, metabolic syndrome is also called prediabetes, which affects 1 in every 3 adults in the U.S.

Some human studies have suggested that eating a diet high in fish may lower the risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Other similar studies, however, have had inconsistent findings. To better understand how fish diets may be associated with dolphin metabolic health, we compared 55 fatty acids among 49 dolphins and their dietary fish.

We were surprised to find that the strongest predictor of lower, healthier insulin levels in dolphins was a saturated fat called, heptadecanoic acid (or C17:0). When we provided a diet higher in C17:0 to six dolphins over six months, their insulin, glucose, and triglycerides normalized. We also saw an immediate decrease in ferritin, a protein which – at high levels – may be a risk factor for metabolic syndrome.

In addition to some fish, C17:0 is present in dairy fat, including whole fat milk and butter. C17:0 was not present in nonfat dairy products. We hypothesize that movement towards nonfat dairy foods may be lowering human C17:0 blood levels, which may be contributing to the global rise in metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Venn-Watson: While this research is still in its early stages, our findings are consistent with the growing body of science that not all fats are bad. In fact, some saturated fats may be good. Clinicians and patients should closely monitor the American Dietary Guidelines (ADG) for recommendations related to dietary cholesterol and fats. Just this year, the ADG softened its recommendations to limit dietary cholesterol and some fats.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Venn-Watson: To understand the relevance of our study to human health, we will be collaborating with hospitals and other research institutions to assess C17:0 levels in a variety of human populations with and without metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.


Stephanie K. Venn-Watson, Celeste Parry, Mark Baird, Sacha Stevenson, Kevin Carlin, Risa Daniels, Cynthia R. Smith, Richard Jones, Randall S. Wells, Sam Ridgway, Eric D. Jensen. Increased Dietary Intake of Saturated Fatty Acid Heptadecanoic Acid (C17:0) Associated with Decreasing Ferritin and Alleviated Metabolic Syndrome in Dolphins. PLOS ONE, 2015; 10 (7): e0132117 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0132117

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Dr. Stephanie K. Venn-Watson (2015). Lipid in Butter and Whole Fat Milk May Risk of Pre-Diabetes 



Last Updated on July 24, 2015 by Marie Benz MD FAAD