Acid from palm oil linked to cancer spread, study suggests

Worldwide Cancer Research calls the finding a ‘huge breakthrough’ in link between diet and cancer

<p>Palm oil plantation in Klias, Beaufort Sabah, Malaysia</p>

Palm oil plantation in Klias, Beaufort Sabah, Malaysia

Leer en Español

Acid found in palm oil can alter the cancer genome, increasing the likelihood that the disease will spread through the body, researchers have found.

Palm oil is a common additive, used in everything from chocolate to lipstick and even toothpaste and shampoo.

The spread of cancer - metastasis - is the main cause of death in patients with the disease and the vast majority of people with metastatic cancer can only be treated but not cured, researchers say.

Fatty acids are the building blocks of fat in our body and the food we eat. Metastasis is promoted by fatty acids in the diet, but it has been unclear how this works and whether all fatty acids contribute to the spread of the disease.

The study was led by researchers at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) in Barcelona and published in the journal, Nature. They found one such fatty acid commonly found in palm oil, called palmitic acid, promoted metastasis in mouth cancers and melanoma skin cancer in mice.

Dr Helen Rippon, chief executive at UK-based charity, 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 per cent of all cancer deaths - that’s around nine 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.”

Other fatty acids called oleic acid and linoleic acid - omega-9 and omega-6 fats found in foods such as olive oil and flaxseeds - did not show the same effect.

While palmitic acid was linked to the disease spreading, it wasn’t linked to increasing the risk of cancer developing in the first place.

The research found that when palmitic acid was supplemented into the diet of mice, it not only contributed to metastasis but also exerted long-term effects on the genome.

Even when the palmitic acid had been removed from the diet, cancer cells that had only been exposed to it in the diet for a short period of time remained highly metastatic.

The changes alter the function of metastatic cancer cells and allow them to form a neural network around the tumour to communicate with cells in their immediate environment and to spread more easily.

Due to these findings, scientists have started developing therapies that interrupt this process and have said a clinical trial could begin in the next couple of years.

Professor Salvador Aznar-Benitah, senior group leader at IRB Barcelona and ICREA research professor, and senior author of the paper, 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.”

Additional reporting by PA.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in