Modification of diet could be an alternative against cancer

Modification of diet could be an alternative against cancer


Currently, both the professional and amateur sports world is surrounded by a myriad of dietary proposals, which promise to greatly improve health. Although they are all focused on weight loss, many of them are not designed for patients with a specific disease such as cancer.

Although there are several treatments to mitigate cancer, a cancer-preventive diet has not yet been explored. Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are working and analyzing various diets in mice and how they affect cancer cells.

During the research, two types of diet, a calorie-restricted diet and a ketogenic (high-fat, low-carbohydrate) diet, were evaluated in mice with pancreatic tumors. Both types of diets, which restrict the consumption of sugars, the researchers found that only the calorie-restricted diet reduced the availability of fatty acids, which is related to a slowing of tumor growth.

This research, according to the scientists responsible, does not suggest that patients should follow any specific diet; however, they suggest further studies. Such complementary studies seek to determine how dietary interventions can be combined with current or future drug therapy in support of cancer patients.

“There is a lot of evidence that diet can affect how quickly cancer progresses, but this does not mean a cure,” says Matthew Vander Heiden, director of MIT’s Koch Institute for Cancer Research. “While the findings are tantalizing, more studies are needed, plus personalization of dietary interventions by the responsible physician is indispensable for various types of cancer.”

Vander Heiden recounted, is often approached by various patients who ask about the possible benefits of various diets, unfortunately there is not enough scientific evidence for definitive advice. Previous studies have suggested that a calorie-restricted diet may slow tumor growth in some contexts.

Regarding the ketogenic diet, there are no conclusive results to support its efficacy against cancer, due to the lack of studies. Evan Lien responsible for the research commented; “A lot of the advice or cultural fads that exist are not always necessarily based on very good science”, emphasizing the lack of scientific evidence.

Based on cancer metabolism and knowledge of cancer cells’ predilection for consuming glucose, the hypothesis of tumor reduction based on ketogenic diet or caloric restriction was developed. Instead, initial experiments in mice with pancreatic tumors showed that calorie restriction has a much greater effect on tumor growth compared to the ketogenic diet.

Thus it was determined that glucose levels were not playing a major role in slowing down. On the other hand, lipids were shown to be a determining factor; this component is necessary for the formation of cell membranes in tumors. On the other hand, in the absence of available lipids, cells can produce their own thanks to an enzyme called stearoyl-CoA desaturase (SCD). This enzyme is responsible for the conversion of saturated fatty acids into unsaturated fatty acids.

In the ketogenic diet lipids are still available unlike in the calorie-restricted diet, where the lack of sufficient lipids significantly decreases tumor growth. “Calorie restriction not only deprives tumors of lipids, it also alters the process of adaptation to it,” says Lien.

Brian Wolpin, an oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, has taken this study to several pancreatic cancer patients in order to analyze some patterns. Through this research, some oncologists have found that the type of fat consumed seems to influence how patients behave after a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Unfortunately, the lack of data and the quality of the data still create an environment of uncertainty for definitive conclusions.

Although researchers do not recommend following a calorie-restricted diet, due to the consequences involved, the research opens the way to other treatments. Some alternative proposals are the creation of a new drug therapy capable of influencing the availability of unsaturated fatty acids to cancer cells.

As a good therapeutic strategy could be the inhibition of the SCD enzyme, which would cut off the ability of tumor cells to produce unsaturated fatty acids. “The purpose of these studies is not necessarily to recommend a diet, but to really understand the underlying biology,” said Lien.