Palmitic acid is a type of saturated fatty acid that is found in both animals and plants. As suggested by it's name, it is found in large amounts in both palm oil and palm kernel oil. This substance is also found in butter, cheese, and milk.
Also known as cetylic acid and hexadecanoic acid, palmitic acid occurs as a white and crystal-like substance that cannot be dissolved in water. This fatty acid melts at 145.5° F (63.1° C). It is the first fatty acid produced during the process of lipogenesis. During this, glucose is converted to fatty acids, which then react with glycerol to produce triacylglycerols.
The word 'palmitic' is French in origin, derived from the word palmitique which refers to the pith of the palm tree. Pith is found in all vascular plants, and is located in either center of the stem or root. It is made up of a collection of spongy cells.
French chemist Edmond Frémy discovered palmitic acid in 1840, in saponified palm oil. His work with the acid was mostly in the area of candle-making. Frémy is best known in the world of chemistry for creating Frémy's salt, which is a strong oxidizing agent he discovered in 1845.
In the World War II, this acid was used to produce napalm, which is a combination of aluminum naphthenate and aluminum palmitate. Napalm was used as a thickening agent, and was added to gasoline and other flammable liquids. This allowed them to burn for a longer period of time.
Palmitic acid intake has been criticized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as potentially causing an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. This was outlined in a 2003 WHO technical report on diet and chronic disease prevention. These findings remain controversial, however, as other studies have not shown the same results.
There are other health concerns with the use of palmitic acid as well. Several studies have documented higher insulin resistance levels in rats given diets rich in palmitic acid. Critics of these findings argue that this is simply part of an evolved process that attempts to balance blood glucose levels.
Another use for palmitic acid is as a form of treatment for schizophrenia. Marketed under the name INVEGA Sustenna®, paliperidone palmitate is an anti-psychotic medication. It is injected directly into the muscles of patients, and functions by using palmitate for as a carrier for the drug. Due to the oily nature of palmitate, the drug takes a long time to dissipate into the system, prolonging its effects.