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Does a High Fat Diet Increase Spread of Cancer?


A recent study shows progress is being made in the quest to discover what lifestyle factors fuel the spread of cancer. Its findings: a high fat diet may accelerate the spread of cancer, even more so than once thought. However, a distinction should be made between the healthy and unhealthy variety of fat.

Noncancerous cells tend to self-destruct when they leave the tissues wherein they lie. From a physiological standpoint, it is difficult for a cancer cell to undergo metastasis, which refers to breaking off from a tumor and traveling to another part of the body. While researchers have long struggled to understand exactly how this happens, they recently discovered that unhealthy fat promotes this deadly process.

Why Cancer Spreads?

In the study published in Nature, scientists for the first time identified a protein called CD36 on cancer cells that have the ability to metastasize. It is present in a wide scope of metastatic cancers, including tumors of the breast, skin, lung, mouth, ovary and bladder. To confirm that CD36 instigates the spread of cancer, the researchers added the protein to non-metastatic cancer cells: the results showed the protein transformed them into metastatic cells.

“Although we have not yet tested this in all tumour types, we can state that CD36 is a general marker of metastatic cells, the first I know of that is generally specific to metastasis,” says Professor Benitah, Head of the Stem Cell and Cancer Lab at IRB Barcelona.

Benitah expects the finding to have a big impact on metastasis research. “Things like this don’t happen every day,” he adds.

What Is the Role of Fat in CD36?

After the researchers discovered CD36 as a common denominator in many types of metastatic cancer cells, the next step was to determine that the protein’s harmful action is dependent upon fatty acids. They fed mice a high fat diet and then injected them with oral cancer. Their observations revealed the high fat diet resulted in a 50-percent greater risk of larger and more frequent metastases.

In the next step, the authors tested palmitic acid, a saturated fatty acid that is a major component of palm oil, which is used in the manufacture of many processed foods and household products, including toothpaste. They treated oral cancer with palmitic acid and then injected it into mice that were fed a standard diet. Their testing showed all the mice with the CD36 protein developed cancer metastasis. In comparison, merely half the mice developed cancer metastasis when not treated with palmitic acid.

“In mice inoculated with human tumour cells, there appears to be a direct link between fat intake and an increase in metastatic potential through CD36,” said Benitah.

Healthy Fat Doesn’t Cause Cancer to Spread

It’s important not to paint all types of fat with a broad-brush stroke because certain types of fat don’t fuel the spread of cancer. In fact, they are very beneficial for health. Healthy-fat foods include avocadoes, raw nuts, olive oil, coconut oil and fatty fish. According to noted natural health practitioner Dr. Joseph Mercola, butter made from organic milk is also in this category.

What Other Dietary Constituents Fuel Cancer?

While the recent research sheds light on what causes cancer to spread, what agents, particularly dietary constituents, promote the formation of cancerous cells? The primary culprit is sugar, which is cancer’s favorite food. In addition, red meat and processed meats are linked to a higher risk of the disease.


Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.

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