What determines the type of fatty acid present in the cell membrane?

Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine
The type of fatty acid present in the cell membrane is determined by the type of fat you consume. A diet that is high in cholesterol and composed mostly of saturated fat, animal fatty acids, and trans-fatty acids (from margarine, shortening, and other sources of hydrogenated vegetable oils) results in cell membranes that are much less fluid in nature than those found in a person who consumes an optimal level of unsaturated fatty acids.

According to modern pathology, or the study of disease processes, an alteration in the function of the cell membrane is the central factor in the development of virtually every disease. As it relates to diabetes, theabnormal structure of the cell membrane due to eating the wrong types of fat leads to impairment in the action of insulin. Without a healthy membrane, cells lose their ability to hold water, vital nutrients, and electrolytes. Without the right types of fat in cell membranes, cells simply do not function properly. In particular, they lose their ability to communicate with other cells and be controlled by regulating hormones. To highlight the impact of having the right types of fat in the cell membranes, let's look at the effect of different diets on insulin action. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that plays a critical role in regulating blood sugar. Loss of sensitivity to the effects of insulin is linked to obesity and Type 2 diabetes. While margarine and saturated fats dampen insulin sensitivity, clinical studies have shown that monounsaturated fats and omega-3 oils improve insulin action. Adding further support to these studies is the fact that population studies have indicated that frequent consumption of monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, nuts and nut oils, and omega-3 fatty acids from fish protect against the development of Type 2 diabetes. A similar association is seen with more than fifty health conditions, including heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.
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Continue Learning about Fats


At 9 calories per gram, fats can add up quickly in your diet, yet experts recommend that you get only 7% of your calorie intake from fat. Fats also affect your cholesterol, and there are both good and bad fats. The best kind of fa...

ts are called unsaturated fats, and can be found in oils like olive and canola oils, nuts and seeds. These fats can help your body get rid of cholesterol. Saturated fats often have had hydrogen added to them to make them more solid. Other saturated fats are found in cream, butter and meats. They can raise your blood cholesterol. Its wise to learn which is which and check nutrition labels to make proper choices.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.