In the last few decades, the prevalence of overweight and essential obesity has been undergoing a fast and progressive worldwide increase. Obesity has been in turn linked to type II diabetes, with the total number of diabetic patients worryingly increasing, in the last fifteen years, suggesting a pandemic phenomenon. At the same time, an increase in the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases has been also recorded. Increasing evidence suggests that the diet is involved in such escalation. In particular, the progressive globalization of food industry allowed massive supply, at a relatively low price, of a great variety of pre-packed food and bakery products, with very high energy content. Most of this food contains high amounts of saturated fatty acids (SFA) and of hydrogenated or trans fatty acids (TFA), that probably represent the prominent risk factors in the diet. Herein we will report diffusion and possible impact on health of such molecules, with reference to coronary heart disease, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. We will also discuss the cellular and molecular mechanisms of action of fatty acids and fatty acid-derivatives which have been involved either in promoting or in preventing human pathologies. Free fatty acids (FFA) are not indeed only essential fuels for the organism. They also act as ligands for both membrane and nuclear receptors involved in different signaling pathways. Notably, some of these pathways can induce cell stress and apoptosis. Most important, FFA can affect glucose-induced insulin secretion and activate β-cell death. These events can be at least in part counteracted by polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Keywords: Fatty acids, signaling fatty acids, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease (CHD), insulin resistance, FFA-dependent β-cell apoptosis, Free fatty acids, Transport, Metabolism