Myristic acid is a common fatty acid that is found in both plant oils and animal fats. It is also known as tetradecanoic acid. It is so named because it is a chain of 14 carbon molecules with a CH3 group at one end and a COOH group at the other.
This compound is a saturated fatty acid. Thus, all of the bonds except for the COOH group are saturated with hydrogen molecules. There are no double bonds. Another way of designating the molecule is 14:0, which indicates a carbon chain length of 14 and a lack of double bonds.
The name myristic acid comes from nutmeg, or Myristica fragrans. 75% of nutmeg butter consists of trimyristin, a derivative of myristic acid. Coconut oil is also a prominent source of this compound, along with palm oil and butter fat. Myristic acid is a white crystalline powder that is not soluble in water. The salt of this compound is known as myristate.
Fatty acids are so named because they have an acid group at one end that is soluble in water — the COOH group — and the CH3 group at the other end that is soluble in oils and fats. Naturally-derived fatty acids have chain lengths of at least eight carbons. Fatty acids related to myristic acid include lauric acid, 12:0; palmitic acid, 16:0: and stearic acid, 18:0. These saturated fatty acids are found together in coconut oil.
Saturated fatty acids have traditionally been considered to be a negative dietary factor, and known to raise cholesterol levels. High levels of certain types of cholesterol can contribute to heart disease. The liver can manufacture cholesterol from an excessive amount of saturated fatty acids in the diet, even if one does not consume any cholesterol. Recent research suggests that the medium length saturated fatty acids found in coconut oil may not be as harmful as saturated fatty acids with longer chains.
The data on populations of people that naturally eat coconuts suggests that coconut oil obtained from the diet does not lead to high cholesterol in the blood serum, or to high levels of coronary heart disease. Adding coconut oil that has not been processed to a typical American diet has produced several different results. Frequently, there is no change in the levels of cholesterol in the blood serum. Sometimes, however, there has been a decrease in total cholesterol.
Other research indicates that myristic acid is particularly effective at causing the liver to synthesize cholesterol. It has been reported that consuming an excessive amount of this fatty acid raises cholesterol levels in the blood of animals and humans. Examining the effect of an individual dietary compound on overall health is a very complex undertaking. Given the complexities, it will probably take substantial research to fully understand the role of myristic acid in human health.