Liver may produce acid needed to maintain brain health - study

January 20, 2024  15:36

Researchers at the University of Toronto have found that palmitic acid, one of the most common fats in breast milk, meat and dairy products, is produced by the liver and sent to the developing brain when it is low in the diet.

"When we changed the level of palmitic acid in the diet of developing mice, it had no effect on the brain," said the study's principal investigator, Richard Bazinet, professor and acting head of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Temerity University School of Medicine.

"The results were surprising because when you reduce lipids in the diet, there are usually less of them in the brain. But in this case, the liver was able to increase production to ensure that the brain was getting enough of them despite extreme differences in diet," the scientists said in the study, the results of which are published in the journal Nature Communications.

Palmitic acid is a saturated fat that supports brain health in several ways throughout life. It is involved in the structure and function of the myelin sheath, which insulates neuronal connections and acts as a precursor to molecules that regulate inflammation and stimulate cell signaling.

Scientists have long known that humans and other mammals can obtain palmitic acid from food or produce it for synthesis, which mainly requires glucose. Much less was known about which source the body relies on, depending on diet and at different stages of growth and maturity.

According to the scientists, the findings emphasize the importance of palmitic acid for brain health at all stages, but especially during development, when fat requirements appear to be highest.

The researchers also point to the need for more research on reducing its content in infant formula, a move that some manufacturers have recently taken to cut costs and limit the harvesting of palm trees, which are a major source of palmitic acid.

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