Diet has been the primary tool used since medieval times to treat diseases. Even today diabetic and hypertensive patients are given strict dietary guidelines which they must adhere to. A recent study published in the Nature science journal has pointed towards possible cancer treatments using dietary control measures.
A team of researchers from the Duke University found that limiting the intake of amino acids found particularly in eggs and red meat can amplify the cancer treatment and can potentially slow down tumor growth.
“These are very strong effects, and they are effects that are as strong as we would see with drugs that work,” said lead researcher Jason Locasale. “What this study is showing is that there are many situations where a drug by itself doesn’t work, but if you combine the drug with the diet, it works, or the radiation therapy doesn’t work well, but if you combine… with the diet, it works well,” he added.
Apart from being the lead researcher on the team Mr. Locasale serves as an associate professor at Duke University’s School of Medicine.
The particular amino acid under the fire is methionine. Methionine has been found to be pivotal to one-carbon metabolism, a process that assists cancer cells in multiplying and spreading.Methionine is a key protein found in eggs and hence are a part of diet for most people.
Previously it was found that Methionine consumption was associated with both premature ageing and weight gain. The recent discovery that its consumption might be promoting cancer spread is a more alarming situation.
The team tested methionine on mice that had colorectal cancer and the results were compared to those obtained from healthy mice.
The researchers noted that chemotherapy on its own was ineffective against the tumor cells but when coupled with the restricted methionine intake the tumor growth was radically controlled.
Another such cancerous growth sarcoma also gave similar results as the colorectal cancer.
“You’re starving the cancer cells of certain nutrients, at a very basic level,” explained Locasale.
“This is certainly not a be-all, end-all to cancer, this is not some panacea,” he said.
“What it’s showing is that there are very interesting interactions between the food we eat, how it changes metabolism… and then how those changes in cellular metabolism might have an effect on tumour growth.”
The world of science has warned that the results must be taken with a pinch of salt as the study is in its infancy and is far from being used as a remedy to cancer on humans. The study has been tested on humans but only to a limited test environment.
Paul Pharoah, a professor at the University of Cambridge commented on the matter, he said, “Before drawing any conclusions about the potential for dietary restriction as an approach to treating cancer, human studies are needed,”. Mr. Pharoah is a professor of Cancer Epidemiology at the University of Cambridge.
The team ran their tests on 6 humans that were undergoing chemotherapy and the results were similar as those in the mice. Limiting the methionine intake reduced the rate of tumor growth dramatically. But some nutritionists and dieticians are skeptical of the research.
Mr. Tom Sanders, a renowned professor of nutritionsaid, “there is no evidence from this study to suggest following a vegan diet with help patients with cancer.”
Locasale said that he had high hopes for the future of cancer treatment to be found by controlling the diet but also exclaimed that getting funding for such projects is difficult as companies don’t usually bankroll something they don’t earn from.
It was suggested that a low-sugar and high fat diet helped in combating cancer and now these kind of rumours can be put to test as this study progresses.
“It’s just a really exciting area right now… where we’re seeing that diet has a huge effect on human health,” Locasale said.
“We’re not there yet, but the goal is to eventually get there.”
His hope and the prospect that one day diet could help cure cancer is a great thing to look up to and provides a platform through which the effect of diet on different diseases can be assessed.