This news couldn’t come at a worse time. Millions of Americans consume chocolate, especially around the holidays, and a study published in Nature reports that chocolate could actually incite cancer cells to spread.
The study, however, did not suggest a cell will turn cancerous. Researchers from the Institute for Research in Barcelona, Spain isolated a protein in current tumor cells, named CD36, which can be stimulated by fats such as those found in chocolate. They believe when CD36 is stimulated, tumor cells can uproot and metastasize.
High fat diets have long been associated with cancer, especially those such as breast, colon and prostate. Palm oil, whose key ingredient is palmitic acid, provides the main saturated fat found in breads, pastries, ice cream, snacks, and even cosmetics such as soap and toothpaste. It’s also prevalent in chocolate. Chocolate, as we know, is high in sugar and fat, worse with milk chocolate, so earned the headline when media reported this study.
Lead researcher, Professor Salvador Benitah, and his team isolated the CD36 on multiple human cancers cells such as breast, lung, skin, ovarian and mouth cancers. They then took mouth cancer (along with its CD36 protein) and injected it into mice. The latter were fed a high fat diet or low fat diet and they observed if the cancer spread. They found those with the high fat diet had 100% metastasis, whereas in the mice who were fed low fat diets, the cancer only spread in 50% of the cases. This suggested that high fats diets can fuel cancer spread and worsen prognosis in patients currently battling cancer.
Professor Salvador Benitah said: :”In mice inoculated with human tumor cells, there appears to be a direct link between fat intake and an increase in metastatic potential through CD36.
“More studies are needed to unravel this intriguing relationship, above all because industrialised countries are registering an alarming increase in the consumption of saturated fats and sugar.
“Fat is necessary for the function of the body, but uncontrolled intake can have an effect on health, as already shown for some tumors such as colon cancer, and in metastasis, as we demonstrate here.”
So in addition to recommending a low fat diet, those of us who refuse to give up chocolate are hoping researchers can take this study to the next step.
Now that they isolated a protein that can be stimulated, causing cancer’s disastrous effects, possibly they could design a way to block it from ever being stimulated. A monoclonal antibody against the CD36 could be effective. However, our optimism must stay in check as we have learned multiple factors can be in play when determining a cancer’s fate.
While we wait, however, I wish I could reach for some chocolate……
Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network and Board Certified Family Physician
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