New scientific evidence on the relationship between the consumption of palmitic acid – the predominant saturated fatty acid in palm oil – and the risk of developing metastasis, a process that originates when cancer cells leave the primary tumor and spread to other vital organs by firing the risk of mortality. It is estimated that nine out of ten deaths from cancer are caused by this cause.
Scientists from Barcelona Biomedical Research Institute (IRB for its acronym in Catalan) led by the researcher ICREA Salvador Aznar-Benitah They had already pointed out in 2017 the relationship between exposure to a diet rich in palmitic acid and the risk of developing metastasis, although now they have described for the first time the mechanism by which this dietary exposure makes tumor cells more aggressive, with greater capacity to metastasize.
These cells have been seen to develop a more aggressive identity that lasts over time, as a form of cellular ‘memory’.
“In the previous research we finally discovered metastatic cells and that was an important advance; We also confirm that prolonged exposure to a diet rich in palmitic oil increases the risk of the disease spreading throughout our body. Now we have seen that that risk persists for months after exposure to this diet because tumor cells remember that they have this capacity, they retain it recorded in their cellular memory, ”the researcher says.
“It doesn’t matter that you eat healthy afterwards or that you haven’t been exposed to that diet for a long time. If you ingest it in excess, the risk lasts for months. In this work we reveal for the first time that there is a ‘memory’ factor of metastatic capacity and we point out a therapeutic way to reverse it. It is hopeful, ”Aznar-Benitah underlines in statements to ABC.
«Greater capacity to innervate»
The authors of the research, published in the journal ‘Nature’ and in which mice that have been transplanted oral tumors and melanomas from patients have been used, have identified a series of markers that exposure to palmitic acid leaves in the tumor cells: a change that causes cells to maintain a greater metastatic capacity even months after being exposed to the fatty acid and that could be related to a greater capacity of these tumor cells to innervate.
In the course of research, tumor cells have been exposed to a diet rich in palmitic acid and have been shown to have an increased ability to metastasize in mice, even when this diet is given for a very short period of time. This is because modifications generated by fatty acid on the genome of metastatic cells (known as epigenetic modifications) are permanent and consequently stably maintain the most “aggressive” properties. The authors describe this behavior as ‘stable memory’.
It does not happen with olive oil or flaxseed oil
The results indicate that a diet rich in palm oil it would be detrimental to the development of cancer, even if it takes place at a very early stage of disease in which the primary tumor may not yet have been detected. Scientists have observed that this expansive and colonizing capacity is acquired due to the consumption of palmitic acid (predominant in palm oil), but not so with oleic acid (very abundant in olive oil) or linoleic acid (characteristic of flaxseed).
«This result is also relevant. That is not to say that consuming excess other oils is healthy. Olive oil, which is sold as healthy, if ingested in large quantities can also be harmful because it also contains palmitic oil, although to a small extent, and people do not know that ”, warns the researcher.
These results suggest that aggressiveness not only has to do with fat metabolism, but also the epigenetic modifications that occur in tumor cells when they ingest palmitic acid.
Another of the great contributions of the research is, according to Aznar-Benitah, that he has been able to see that a diet rich in palmitic acid allows tumor cells to create a neural network around the tumor. The most metastatic tumor cells, those that have this aggressiveness marked in their memory, acquire the ability to call the nervous system and the neural network that forms around the tumor generates a regenerative environment, which the cells use for their own benefit, to grow and expand.
Schwan cells, a way to stop metastasis
One of the key elements in the formation of the neural network that favors metastasis are the so-called células Schwann, which surround and protect neurons. Research reveals that, By blocking these cells, in different ways, the formation of this nerve network is inhibited, and metastasis does not take place.. «Tumor cells maintain a dialogue with the nerve and this dialogue gives way to the formation of this neural network, which is the step prior to metastasis. Schwan cells are the mediator between the cells and the nerve, blocking them metastasis is blocked ”, explains the IRB researcher. «That discovery supposes an important first step in developing therapies that slow the progression of metastasis both in people who already have the tumor and in others who do not yet have it», He points out.
In the opinion of the doctor Gloria Pascual, associate researcher at the IRB Barcelona Stem Cells and Cancer laboratory and co-first author of the article together with Dr. Diana Domínguez, «isdiscovery opens up new avenues for research and development of targeted therapies to specifically avoid cancer metastasis, which is almost always where mortality lies.
The study, which has had the collaboration of the group of doctor Ali Shilatifard (Feinberg School of Medicine-Northwestern University), who has co-led the work, has received funding from the Worldwide Cancer Research, the Spanish Association Against Cancer, the Mharvester de TV3, the BBVA Foundation, the European Research Council, the Generalitat de Catalunya, the Ministry of Science and Innovation of the Government of Spain, the Lilliane Bettencourt Foundation, the La Caixa Foundation, the National Cancer Institute and the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The laboratories of the doctor have also participated in the investigation. Holger Heyn (CNAG-CRG), the doctor Ramin Shiekhattar (Sylvester Cancer Center, University of Miami), la doctora Bescós Choir (Hospital Vall d’Hebrón) and the doctor Neus Prats (IRB Barcelona).
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism