HomeLifestyleHealth & FitnessA diet rich in palm oil could accelerate 'Metastasis Risk' for months

A diet rich in palm oil could accelerate ‘Metastasis Risk’ for months

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New research has found a link between the consumption of palmitic acid, the primary saturated fatty acid in palm oil, and the chance of developing metastasis, a process that occurs when cancer cells leave the initial tumor and spread to other important organs, increasing the risk of death.

The most common cause of death in cancer patients is metastasis, or the spread of cancer, and the vast majority of people with metastatic cancer can only be treated, not cured.

The building blocks of fat in our bodies and the food we eat are fatty acids. Fatty acids in our diet increase metastasis, however, it’s unclear how this happens or whether all fatty acids contribute to metastasis.

Researchers from the IRB Barcelona, Spain, have discovered that palmitic acid, a fatty acid typically present in palm oil, promotes metastasis in oral carcinomas and melanoma skin cancer in mice.

Other fatty acids, such as oleic acid and linoleic acid, which are abundant in foods like olive oil and flaxseeds and are omega-9 and omega-6 fats, did not have the same effect. In the first place, neither of the fatty acids studied raised the risk of cancer.

Palmitic acid supplementation into the food of mice not only contributed to metastasis, but also had long-term impacts on the genome, according to the study. Even after palmitic acid was eliminated from the diet, cancer cells that had just been exposed to it for a short time remained highly metastatic.

“This result is also relevant. This is not to say that consuming excess other oils is healthy. Olive oil, which is sold as healthy, if ingested in large quantities can also be harmful because it also contains, although, to a limited extent, palmitic oil and people do not know that,” warns the researcher.

The researchers revealed that epigenetic alterations — changes in how our genes function – are responsible for this “memory.”

The epigenetic modifications modify the function of metastatic cancer cells, allowing them to create a neural network surrounding the tumor that allows them to connect with cells in their immediate environment and spread more quickly.

Research reveals that, by blocking these cells, in different ways, the formation of this nerve network is inhibited, and metastasis does not take place. 

Antibodies are being produced for the clinical trial by ONA Therapeutics, a start-up co-founded by senior author of the paper Professor Salvador Aznar-Benitah, ICREA researcher and head of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine’s Stem Cells and Cancer lab (IRB Barcelona).

To develop this first-in-class treatment for metastatic cancer, the company just received 30 million euros from private investors. The researchers are hoping to begin the study in the next couple of years to test their novel antibody in a variety of cancers.

Professor Salvador Aznar-Benitah, senior author of the work and Senior Group Leader at IRB Barcelona and ICREA research professor, said:

“I think it is too early to determine which type of diet could be consumed by patients with metastatic cancer that would slow down the metastatic process. That said, based on our results one would think that a diet poor in palmitic acid could be effective in slowing down the metastatic process, but much more work is needed to determine this.

“We are not concentrating on this direction of research; instead, we are focusing on new potential therapeutic targets that we could inhibit and that could have a real therapeutic benefit for the patient irrespective of their diet.

“If things keep on going as planned, we could start the first clinical trial in a couple of years. I am very excited about this and we are investing a lot of effort to generate the best possible therapy that cancer patients will hopefully be able to benefit from in the nearby future.” 

Dr. Helen Rippon, Chief Executive at Worldwide Cancer Research said: “This discovery is a huge breakthrough in our understanding of how diet and cancer are linked and, perhaps more importantly, how we can use this knowledge to start new cures for cancer.

“Metastasis is estimated to be responsible for 90% of all cancer deaths – that’s around 9 million deaths per year globally. Learning more about what makes cancer spread and – importantly – how to stop it is the way forward to reduce these numbers.

“Discovery research like this is incredibly exciting because it marks the beginning of a journey that will ultimately lead to more lives saved and more time spent with loved ones. We are all very excited to see the results from this clinical trial and the future impact these findings might have on people with metastatic cancer.”

Image Credit: Getty

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