Going vegan really can prevent cancer, according to new research.
Experiments found cutting out the amino acid methionine – found in poultry, red meat and fish – stopped tumours growing in mice.
What’s more, it also made chemotherapy and radiation drugs more effective.
And when healthy humans stopped consuming the foods there was the same boost to metabolism – suggesting a reduced risk of the disease.
Professor Jason Locasale, a cancer biologist at Duke University in the US, said: ” In people, a reduction in dietary methionine levels had a similar effect on metabolism to that seen in mice.
“This may suggest a conserved response between humans and mice to dietary restriction of this amino acid.”
Natalie Portman and Ariande Grande put their glowing skin down to a vegan lifestyle. Other celebrities who follow it include Gisele Bundchen and Ellie Goulding.
Prof Locasale said: “Here we show dietary restriction of the essential amino acid methionine – the reduction of which has anti-ageing and anti-obesogenic properties – influences cancer outcome.”
In lab tests on drug resistant bowel cancers taken from actual patients methionine restriction led to them responding to the medications.
The results were confirmed in mice genetically engineered to develop deadly soft tissue sarcomas resistant to radiation.
Prof Locasale said: “In a controlled and tolerated feeding study in humans, methionine restriction resulted in effects on systemic metabolism that were similar to those obtained in mice.
“These findings provide evidence that a targeted dietary manipulation can specifically affect tumour-cell metabolism to mediate broad aspects of cancer outcome.”
In the preliminary study six middle-aged individuals received a low methionine diet for three weeks – equivalent to an 83 percent reduction in daily intake.
The participants – five women and a man aged 49 to 58 – consumed a methionine-free beverage and foods such as fruits, vegetables and refined grains.
At the end levels of metabolites in their blood correlated with those seen in mice on the same dietary restriction.
In the series of cancer models in mice restricting levels of methionine resulted in inhibition of tumour growth.
When used in combination with the chemotherapy drug 5-fluorouracil, or radiation therapy, spread was also halted.
It provides fresh light on the links between cancer and poor metabolism. Fat behaves almost like an organ – interacting with other parts of the body.
It actually sends out signals that play a crucial role in regulating metabolism, the immune system and other functions.
If we become overweight or obese, the normal running of the body can get knocked off balance by too many signals from fat.
Methionine is an essential amino acid the body is unable to produce – and plays a critical role in metabolism.
It is metabolised as part of a group of reactions called ‘one-carbon metabolism’ – which are also targeted by a number of cancer drugs.
But it was unclear whether specific dietary interventions could influence these, said Prof Locasale.
He said: “Although cancer has a substantial metabolic component, the principles that define whether nutrition may be used to influence outcomes of cancer are unclear.
“Nevertheless, it is established targeting metabolic pathways with pharmacological agents or radiation can sometimes lead to controlled therapeutic outcomes.
“By contrast, whether specific dietary interventions can influence the metabolic pathways that are targeted in standard cancer therapies is not known.”
He added: “These findings provide evidence a targeted dietary manipulation can specifically affect tumour-cell metabolism to mediate broad aspects of cancer outcome.”
Forty years ago a landmark paper was published showing for the first time that cancer has “absolute methionine dependency.”
In a Petri dish normal cells thrive – but without the amino acid, cancerous ones die. Fresh tumours taken from patients are also dependent on methionine.
These include those of the colon, breast, ovary, prostate and skin. Pharmaceutical companies are working on drugs that decrease methionine levels.
But since methionine is sourced mainly from food, a better strategy is to eliminate them from diet.
Lower methionine foods include fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains and beans – in other words, a trendy vegan diet popular with celebrities.
There are around 164,000 cancer deaths in the UK every year – around 450 every day. The disease accounts for more than a quarter (28%) of all deaths.
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