The Importance of Saturated Fats for Biological Functions

Mary Enig

Many people recognize that saturated fats are needed for energy, hormone production, cellular membranes and for organ padding. You may be surprised to learn that certain saturated fatty acids are also needed for important signaling and stabilization processes in the body.

Signaling processes work in the cells at the level of the membrane proteins, many of which are called G-protein receptors. The G-protein receptors become stimulated by different molecules and can be turned off or on in a manner similar to a binary light switch, which remains on for a limited time and then flips itself off until it is stimulated again.

The saturated fatty acids that play important roles in these processes are the 16-carbon palmitic acid, the 14-carbon myristic acid and the 12-carbon lauric acid. These saturated fatty acids are found in certain food fats. Palmitic acid, for example, comprises 45 percent of palm oil and about 25 percent of animal and dairy fats. Furthermore, the body makes palmitic acid out of excess carbohydrates and excess protein.

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