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Culinary Cancer Cure? Surprising Foods Linked to Enhanced Anti-Tumor Immunity, Study Shows

Red Meat and Dairy Linked to Enhanced Anti-Tumor Immunity
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Dairy and red meat may play a role in cancer immunity.

Dec. 2 2023, Published 10:01 a.m. ET

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A new study has challenged medical experts current beliefs on diet since it suggests red meat and dairy products could be beneficial for treating cancer. recently reported that researchers learned a special fatty acid alled trans-vaccenic acid (TVA) found in meats such as beef and lamb as well as in dairy products actually enhances the immune cells' ability to fight tumors.

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The groundbreaking study was conducted by a University of Chicago research team and focused on the critical connection between diet and human health.

“There are many studies trying to decipher the link between diet and human health, and it’s very difficult to understand the underlying mechanisms because of the wide variety of foods people eat," noted Professor Jing Chen, a lead author on the study. “But if we focus on just the nutrients and metabolites (molecules formed in the digestion process) derived from food, we begin to see how they influence physiology and pathology.”

Chen added: “By focusing on nutrients that can activate T cell responses, we found one that actually enhances anti-tumor immunity by activating an important immune pathway."

First published by EurekAlert!, the study found that higher levels of the fatty acid TVA in the blood may be associated with better responses to immunotherapy, leading the scientists believe that TVA could potentially be utilized as a supplemental tool to enhance cancer treatments.

Team members made the conclusion by creating a ‘blood nutrient’ library that consists of about 700 food-derived metabolites. They then screened those metabolites to study their effects on anti-tumor immunity.

“After millions of years of evolution, there are only a couple hundred metabolites derived from food that end up circulating in the blood, so that means they could have some importance in our biology,” Chen said.

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He continued, “To see that a single nutrient like TVA has a very targeted mechanism on a targeted immune cell type, with a very profound physiological response at the whole organism level—I find that really amazing and intriguing.”

TVA, among the top six candidates in both human and mouse cells, was identified by the scientists as the most effective and promising.

This critical effectiveness was bore out by a TVA-enriched diet in mice. The results showed a significant reduction in both melanoma and colon cancer tumor growth. There was also improved tumor infiltration, often considered a positive occurence in cancer treatment.

Blood samples collected from lymphoma patients undergoing immunotherapy also revealed that higher levels of TVA were associated with better treatment responses.

TVA also was found to enhance the efficacy of an immunotherapy drug in killing leukemia cells.

Though the findings were positive, the researchers on the study cautioned against over-consuming red meat since there are clean and well-documented health risks associated with the food.

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Researchers have not turned to plants in an attempt to find what might be healthier sources of natural chemicals to ward off cancer.

“There is early data showing that other fatty acids from plants signal through a similar receptor, so we believe there is a high possibility that nutrients from plants can do the same thing by activating the CREB (pertaining to the central nervous system) pathway as well,” Professor Chen said.


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