Saturday, 1 March 2008

Nervonic Acid...where did it go?

I love a mystery.

Don't you?

It brings out my inner Nancy Drew. I feel way more skilled than her though with my statistical knowledge (I teach statistics). So I'm more like a well designed character in a classic Agatha Christie novel....a curious statistician if you like ;)

Cooking brings out my inner Laura Ingalls Wilder (or perhaps Rose Wilder if you've read their history). Sometimes I wonder if part of each of them reincarnated with me. That is the power of books (and especially autobiographical books like the Little House in the Prairie series). Of course Nancy Drew is a purely fictional character but what young girl didn't envision herself as a detective after reading her books!

So, the mystery that unfolded to me in the last year was one that erupted when I discovered the possible death of nervonic acid from a) our food chain and b) our food information chain.

At this point you might be wondering what the heck I'm talking about...I'm keeping my cards pretty close to my chest eh?

Well, just like Agatha Christie, I'm setting it up for you. That's all this will be since any answers are not clear enough to draw firm conclusions (alas, that is the nature of the allopathic world we live in). But I will tell you where you might find some sources of nervonic acid without heading to the drugstore or compounding pharmacy.

So who is our suspected cadaver then? Not much is known about our victim. For starters, nervonic acid is also known by the two other names I've attached as labels to this post - selacholeic acid and tetracosenoic acid. But a search on those terms leads to even less information.

So nervonic acid isn't quite a "Jon Doe" but there is not exactly a lot of background information on the topic. The information on wiki's stub for Nervonic Acid indicates clearly that there is interest emerging in this monounsaturated long chain (Omega 9) fatty acid - i.e. food. Note the reference list is only 3 items long and all of them are patents.

Patents on food? Easy to do if the item has almost disappeared from our food chain and consumers look to pills and supplements for answers to health issues - and vaccines, but that's a tree I won't bark up in this mystery.

MS consumers are mentioned in one patent specifically.

In fact, MS and nervonic acid research is also currently underway by the Canadian government - research into seed breeding to create higher nervonic acid concentrations for 'treatment' purposes for MS and other diseases (scroll about 1/2 way down the page for the research headed by David Taylor). The research summary is partly as follows (bold emphasis is mine):
Nervonic acid has also been investigated as a raw material in the pharmaceutical industry for production of medication used for symptomatic treatment of MS. Therefore, the focus of this project is to produce new elite prototypes of Brassicaceae producing seed oils highly enriched in nervonic acid for human and animal health-related targets.
Interesting plot twist eh? Especially coupled with this professor's research - another Canadian - he is conducting more nutraceutical research on nervonic acid. There must be a bit of money in this I'd say.

So we've got 3 patents and one government so far directly linked with our suspected cadaver, nervonic acid. And one source for nervonic acid - brassicaceae seeds which include many well known and not so well known items including mustard and cabbage. According to wiki (bold emphasis is mine):
The (brassicacaeae) family is cosmopolitan, but is concentrated in the northern temperate regions and reaches maximal diversity around the Mediterranean area.
Do we now have yet another hypothesis for why MS rates are exceedingly higher the further you go from the equator? Hmmm...too simple? Sometimes the simplest explanation is the right one. Actually I would say most times.

Could nervonic acid consumption (or lack thereof) be a cornerstone in the mystery known as multiple sclerosis?

And why is the Canadian government supporting research into pharmaceutical applications to produce nervonic acid while not reporting it in any of our food (the Canadian nutrient database does not list nervonic acid in it's output and neither does any international nutrient data base that I've explored)?

What's up with that? To be fair, the entire class known as monounsaturated fats have been discovered to provide health benefits only very recently (the link is to an example 2007 publication on the health of children and consumption of monounsaturated fats).

But to be blunt....why fund commercial applications while not providing consumers with raw data on a nutrient that is AVAILABLE IN OUR FOOD CHAIN? (yes, this makes me a tad angry). It is like barking up a tree that nobody else sees in the forest - or only corporations are seeing.

So we now know that most governments have avoided connecting themselves with our suspected victim. we have 'evidence' linking nervonic acid with 3 patents, many governments worldwide (linked by omission or commission) and one food source.

But onto another tree that I will bark up - an actual tree - for trees hold a special spotlight in my nervonic acid mystery story. A spotlight that perhaps should be floodlit but without a chemical lab at my disposal then the only actual tree I can connect with nervonic acid is the one a curious publication in Forest Products Journal identified in November 2006. The following is from that page - bold emphasis is mine:
Purpleblow maple (Acer truncatum) is a plant belonging to the genus Acer. In ancient China, its Chinese name was Yuanbao. The tree is widely distributed in China from north of the Jilin Province to south of the Gansu Province and from south of the Anhui Province to the Kerchin Desert of Inner Mongolia. It is one of the main species of the red-leaf trees on Mount Xiangshan and in big cities such as Beijing. In the early 1970s, seeds of purpleblow maple were exploited for their edible oil; the oil content is high reaching 45 to 48 percent (Wang 2003). The cultivation technology, constituents, and medical value of purpleblow maple have been systematically studied through intensive research projects, The results showed that purpleblow maple has been developed and exploited as food and for use in medicine and chemistry. The fatty acids of purpleblow maple seed oil contain 5 to 6 percent nervonic acid (NA).

Updated evidence list: 3 patents, many governments and 2 food sources.

And China? Well, now there's a country that's been just a hopping with nervonic acid production (stimulated/funded by the above publication?......the dots connect for me.....). China taking over our food chain...what a novel concept eh?

Evidence update: 3 patents, many governments including a large Chinese supplier and 2 food sources.

One more key piece of evidence in our nervonic acid story is in this pdf publication from the journal Pure and Applied Chemistry in 2001. This is an article entitled "Lexicon of lipid nutrition". Basically it reports the lipid content of many oils and foods (download this if you wish a very detailed resource on all fat contents in many will have to know the chemical composition to identify the fat that you are interested in but wiki contains that information).

Lipids are basically any fat soluble naturally occurring molecule and nervonic acid is one of the identified fatty acids in this study. The only food items that contain ANY nervonic acid in this published study are: Rapeseed (canola) oil (<3%) and Rapeseed oil (low erucic acid - this is probably what is on the market if you know that canola is heavily gmo'd) < 0.4%. Soybean and peanut oil also contain small amounts but they are not part of my diet.

Hemp oil was not reported in the previous study but a number of sites suggest that it has a nervonic acid composition of < 0.2% as does borage oil.

So as evidence in our nervonic acid mystery we have: 3 patents (at least); many countries; and a few food sources.

There are other sources of nervonic acid that have been identified in published research but all of them seem to be published by pharmaceutical interests and contain food from far away continents such as China. I included the Chinese purplebrow maple tree because just maybe the maples littering my own province contain this same molecule. And the fact that China seems to have cornered the nutraceutical market on this so far. And oh yeah...nervonic acid is present in breastmilk. Surprise surprise. I'm so glad I breastfed my daughter for 14 months.

So do we have a cadaver?

Perhaps, but, like my tag line reads, "Each morsel is an opportunity for change".

So I've grabbed some organic mustard seed powder and use it liberally in my cooking and salad dressings. I'm eating mustard greens, cabbage, turnips and hemp products like I've never before.

Nervonic acid is not dead to me. Not anymore. And that's the crux of the matter isn't it?

If you read this entire (record long) post then you, like myself, are very interested in nervonic acid. That is why I wrote it because an amalgamation of information on nervonic acid did not exist when I discovered this nutrient and it's link to multiple sclerosis. Please leave a comment if you found my information helpful. Please also pass this information along to anyone who is pregnant and considering breastfeeding or anyone you may know that has multiple sclerosis.

Thanks to Shauna at Crazy Orange Turtle and Melissa at Gluten Free for Good for inspiring this post. Namaste to you and yours.


glutenfreeforgood said...

Hi Orla,

Yes, I just read your whole post on nervonic acid. Nerve cell importance? MS and autoimmunity? Hmmm?

It's funny how people and ideas are brought together, especially in the computer age. I have a file on my computer called "ND Moments." That's Nancy Drew Moments, or thoughts I've had, things I need to figure out, wonderings. I'm doing some ND research on agave right now. When I saw your reference to ND, I almost choked on my tea.

Nice to meet you Orla. Let's keep in touch.


Orla Hegarty, B. Math (Hons OR/Comp Sci), M.A.Sc. (Mgmt Sci) said...

I nearly choked on my pistachios when I read this Melissa! Nancy Drew moments indeed.

Thank-you so much for your comment.

I have been on the net since before it began (1986 or thereabouts) and I have had many of these moments and each one is just as refreshing and connecting.

My first 'moment' occurred when I had a miscarriage in 1993...a very sad period of my life....but I was then first able to connect to an online community and find solace and support for the answers I was then seeking.

Little has changed in the past 15 years (and I've been online throughout this time) except that now there are more people online and willing to share their knowledge.

Today's web is like a banquet of knowledge and I'm delighted to find community with you Melissa and other like minded bloggers at the same table ;)

Namasté to all in this community and those of my past. Humans are a giving lot.

Jon said...

Wow, that was a spectacular post! Thanks!

You had my attention at "I teach statistics"; I emphasize statistics and uncertainty quantification in my classes and always find statisticians interesting. Maybe that's just me?

Thanks for the information on the seldom (ever?) mentioned nervonic acid. I did some some useful information from nutritiondata that may help in this Nancy Drew quest:

Check out NutritionData's Fatty Acid info

Some foods high in NA are listed here:

Foods High in Nervonic Acid

Quinoa, Flax Seeds, Salmon, and Yellow Mustard sound good to me :)

Thanks again,

Orla Hegarty, B. Math (Hons OR/Comp Sci), M.A.Sc. (Mgmt Sci) said...

Thank-you for your compliment Jon and I appreciate the information you posted.

NutritionData is an interesting site....lots of junk 'food' listed....but there are nuggets in there for sure. I found the nervonic acid content of the items in their 'Ethnic' food(?) category particularly interesting (whale? seal? wow).

I posted a link to this blog post on my ms discussion list and someone on that list is acquiring some of the chinese nervonic acid. Apparently there are no suppliers in North America for this, yet. I can't say I'm that interested in supplementation of a product made of chinese trees (I'm guessing). China doesn't seem too particular when it comes to feeding foreigners either.

So I for one will skip the NA supplements - especially when a mustard, quinoa, salmon and flax seed mix sound like the makings of a great Nervonic acid power salad to me - i.e. Nancy meets Laura ;)

Wisewebwoman said...

Nancy meets Laura, LOL.
Got to get me some Nervonica.
Great post, long but an interesting trip all the way and I'm finding your recent posts more enlightening as I'm accompanying them with my current reading: The Omnivore's Dilemma, a great supplement as it explores the darker side of our current food chains.

Orla Hegarty said...

Thx WWW...I'm looking forward to reading that for sure!

An interesting site came up today in one of my google alerts for nervonic acid (aka Tetracosanoic acid). It seems that spinach has some too albeit not much!

glutenfreeforgood said...


I've added nervonic acid to my ND virtual post-it notes. I have a plant pathologist friend and have contacted him about it. Brilliant guy, into EFAs and human (and animal) health. And the ripples extend outward!

In Defense of Food is another good book by Michael Pollan.

I smiled at your ND meets LW comment. I did a post once called GF Betty Crocker Meets Wilderness Woman.

Yes, we have some parallel threads going Orla!


The Good Eatah said...


That's fascinating stuff. My mother (who has MS) and my sister (who is 8 months pregnant) will both be sent a link to this post.

I'm gluten-free and dairy-free, but my mother won't consider it even with all the research linking MS and diet. As I look through your blog more I think I'll be able to compile even more evidence it's at least worth a try for her.

Great stuff!


Orla Hegarty said...

Melissa: I definitely need to read Michael Pollen's work...I've read a bit online and I have always been impressed.

Lizzie: Wow. If there is one type of person I hope to address it is you. Here is a comment I posted on another blog and it contains material that your mother in particular might be interested in...and others may be on...


Thank-you for posting this. I am not a celiac but am also gluten free due to research carried out with respect to dietary approaches for treating multiple sclerosis. This page has information on research connecting MS with celiac disease:

There is a 40 minute talk by Dr. Loren Cordain (The author of The Paleo Diet) on the subject of this ms-diet but it is informative to anyone wishing to understand how some foods create ‘trojan horses’ in our digestive and neurological systems.

I provide the link not necessarily as a recommendation for his book/diet but for an excellent presentation of the science of digestion (with respect to your first and third facts in your post). This is the link to his presentation….the simultaneous powerpoint show only works in IE I think:

Bubbie said...

great post..very informative and well written. I'm putting cabbage, turnips and mustard greens on my list for the farmer's market this weekend. BTW, Carson labs, a nutriceutical company has done extensive research on the nutitional fatty acids that I found very interesting.Our food supply and diets are so lacking in the essentials. Of course Big Pharma is out there going for patents and engineering food for their purposes.

Orla Hegarty said...

Thanks so much for you compliments Bubbie! I hope you find some great 'Nancy meets Laura' fixin's this weekend too ;)

I can't find the information on Carson labs that you you have a link?

PJ said...

I always wondered about the O9. I saw a ref to this in one of Ray Peat's articles (search nervonic) and thought I'd google for food sources. Doesn't it seem ODD that the other Omegas are all over the place but this is not? Or perhaps, as you note, it's merely that so little is known about it we aren't even tracking its existence. So maybe there's a lot of it in something and we don't even know.

Thanks for the info collection!


Orla Hegarty said...

PJ: Thanks for reminding me about this post. I think will investigate nervonic acid again. I am glad you found the information useful!

Marina said...

wow Orla this is interesting stuff. My MS Neuro maybe heard of this and if not he will from me,very soon.

Unknown said...

Hi Orla,

I have MS and would like to find some nervonic acid supplement, but they are not yet available! Too bad.

The prospect of improved myelination is tantalizing, just like those grapes the fox wanted.

If I am wrong, please let me know. I like your use of Nancy Drew's sleuth mode--Judy Bolton is a great detective, too!

Thanks very much for your post!


John O'Neill

Anonymous said...

...and now it seems that nervonic acid has a role in protection against psychosis; including schizophrenia

Amminger GP, Schäfer MR, Klier CM, Slavik JM, Holzer I, Holub M, Goldstone S, Whitford TJ, McGorry PD, Berk M. Decreased nervonic acid levels in erythrocyte membranes predict psychosis in help­seeking ultra­high­risk individuals. Mol Psychiatry. 2011 Dec 20

It is also present in atlantic cod:

Nervonic Acid (24:1n-9) is a Dominant Unsaturated Fatty Acid in the Intestinal Brush Border of Atlantic Cod
Gudjón Andri Gylfason, Erna Knútsdóttir and Bjarni Ásgeirsson
Lipid Insights 2012:5 19–34 doi: 10.4137/LPI.S10291

Anonymous said...

I just read that olives, avocados and macadamia nuts have some Nervonic acid in them as well. I recently had a back injury which felt suspiciously like a nerve problem causing the muscles seizing up. I started taking "Salmon oil complete" despite that fact that I am vegan. It lists nervonic acid as one of its igredients and I was curious about it so I did some research. It makes sense that some of these nerve, muscle and brain diseases which are occurring more frequently are related to the lack of this important essential fatty acid. Imbalances can occur due to our overconsumption of omega 6's which may limit the amount of nervonic acid available to the body as well. Just a theory. Anyway, my back injury is healing and I think I will keep taking the supplement for now as it is also an excellent source of Omega 3's, which I probably did not consume enough of.