Mouse research indicates palm oil fatty acids may help cancer spread

palm oil
  • Metastasis alters the metabolism and intake of fatty acids, which are essential for health.
  • Palmitic acid, found in palm oil, can enhance the expression of genes linked to tumor metastasis.
  • Palmitic acid-exposed cancer cells are highly metastatic.

The fundamental building elements of fat in our bodies and the food we eat are fatty acids (FAs). They can be used as a source of energy for metabolic processes.

FA may be divided into three categories based on their chemistry:

  • monounsaturated FAs, which are associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease
  • polyunsaturated FAs, which are protective against the risk of dementia and coronary heart disease
  • saturated FAs and trans fats, which are associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease

Foods include more than 20 different types of FAs, and the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that “the majority of the fats that you eat should be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated for optimal health,” rather than saturated or trans fats, which people should avoid.

Rewiring the cell

Cancer cells have the ability to rearrange their metabolism in order to create the energy they require for growth and eventual survival. FA metabolism is important for cancer growth because it provides energy and macromolecules.

According to a new study, palmitic acid, an FA found in palm oil and used in cakes, cookies, and chocolate, has been proven to enhance cancer metastasis, or spread.

According to a previous study, metastases were a contributing factor in more than 65 percent of the fatalities attributable to solid tumor cancer from 2019 forward. When cancer cells break away from the main tumor mass and enter the blood or lymphatic system, they can travel and develop into tumors in other regions of the body, which is known as metastasis.

The goal of the current study, which was published in Nature, was to see if distinct FAs create alterations that raise the chance of cancer metastasis, and if so, how.

The study was headed by Dr. Salvador Aznar-Benitah of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Barcelona. The researchers used three dietary FAs to treat human oral and skin cancer cells: palmitic acid, oleic acid, and linoleic acid. The cells were transplanted to where they would go in mice after 4 days of exposure. They were fed a standard diet.

None of the FAs raised the expression of genes linked to metastasis or the extent of existing metastatic lesions, but palmitic acid, the primary saturated FA in palm oil, did.

FAs may have different effects depending on the kind of tumor. For example, oleic acid reduced the spread of mouth and skin cancers in this study, while prior research indicated that it encouraged cervical cancers.

Reversible changes and cell memory

In a second experiment, the researchers looked at the “memory” of palmitic acid-exposed cells. They cultivated human oral cancer cells without palmitic acid for 14 days after exposing them to palmitic acid for four days. The cells were subsequently transplanted into mice that were fed a standard diet, as previously.

The tumor cells treated to palmitic acid remained highly metastatic, according to the researchers.

This “memory,” according to the study’s authors, is linked to epigenetic alterations, which are reversible modifications generated by environmental variables that modify how genes function without changing the DNA sequence.

Dr. Aznar-Benitah points out that a 2017 research found an increased risk of metastasis, but that the cause was unknown. “In this study, we detail the process and reveal the involvement of a metastatic capacity ‘memory’ factor, and we point to a therapeutic approach to reverse it. This is promising.”

The lead research author also expressed his desire to see the technology used in clinical trials. “If things keep on going as planned, we could start the first clinical trial in a couple of years.”

 “Regulating metastasis is the final frontier for cancer therapy,” says Prof. Ali Shilatifard, research co-author and head of the Simpson Querrey Institute for Epigenetics, implying that the results might lead to a new generation of FA metabolism-focused therapeutics.

Dr. Helen Rippon, the CEO of Worldwide Cancer Research, reiterated same sentiments. It’s worth mentioning that the study was funded by Worldwide Cancer Research.

 “Metastasis is such a gap in our understanding of #cancer, yet it’s what causes cancer deaths. Dr. Rippon tweeted.   In an interview, she commented on this, saying:

“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. [….] We are all very excited to see the results from this clinical trial and the future impact these findings might have on people with metastatic cancer.”