Tag Archives: cancer

Link Between Ultra-Processed Foods & Cancer

While ultra-processed foods are not known for their health qualities, new research published Wednesday in the BMJ further confirms the health risks involved in processed products.

Researchers discovered that people who consume more ultra-processed foods–including those with unrecognizable and unpronounceable words on the list of ingredients–demonstrate a higher risk of cancer. While most food is processed to some degree, ultra-processed foods are typically packed with higher calories, increased amounts of sodium, and an abundance of sugar.

Data and findings have long indicated that people who live on ultra-processed food tend to be more obese and overweight, with more cardiovascular problems and difficulties concerning diabetes. Studies have also found a correlation between consumption of processed meat and colorectal cancer.

Researchers located this new cancer link through an analysis of 24-hour dietary records of nearly 105,000 adults in the NutriNet-Sante cohort, a general population group in France. The individuals recorded what they ate from a list of 3,300 food items, which were then categorized by how processed they were–using a system called NOVA.

The scientists found that a 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet was associated with a significant increase of greater than 10% in terms of risks for overall cancer and breast cancer. The published study states: “Ultra-processed fats and sauces, sugary products and drinks were associated with an increased risk of overall cancer. Ultra-processed sugary products were associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.”

People who consumed more ultra-processed food also tended to smoke more and exercise less than the others, yet the study’s authors controlled these factors and still found the elevated cancer risk. “It was quite surprising, the strength of the results. They were really strongly associated, and we did many sensitive analysis and adjusted the findings for many co-factors, and still, the results here were quite concerning,” study co-author Mathilde Touvier said.

Unfortunately, ultra-processed occupy a growing part of the globe’s diet. A 2016 study found that 60% of the calories in an average American’s diet come from these types of foods, while a 2017 study confirmed that they make up 50% of the Canadian and U.K. diets. While more of the developing world is starting to eat this way, the authors advise a balanced and diversified diet as one of the most critically important public health priorities.

A balanced and diversified diet should be considered one of the most important public health priorities, the authors advise, by eating real, whole foods and trying to limit ultra-processed items.

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Mushrooms as Medicine?

Mushrooms have been used in Eastern medicine for centuries, treating everything from asthma to gout. The food is now being marketed in the West as part of a medicinal regimen to prevent cancer, and/or stimulate higher brain function. While there are relatively few trials that have been conducted in humans to support these claims, there are studies that have confirmed the food’s anti-tumor properties.

While mushrooms are inherently healthy and low in calories, scientists at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, assert that mushrooms are particularly good for us because of what they do before humans harvest them. Viki Sabaratnam, the scientist in charge of the school’s mushroom research center, states: “Their basic function in the environment is recycling of large molecules, and in the process they produce these fruit bodies, we call them, and they accumulate some of these components.”

These components include dozens of nutrients like selenium, vitamin D, potassium, and compounds known as beta glucans, which can help fight inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is a primary contributor to many diseases associated with aging, including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia. In the lab, researchers have reported many promising benefits from mushrooms, ranging from killing cancer in human cells to reducing insulin resistance in diabetic mice.

While the research on humans has not been prolific, and has been re legated to small and specifically targeted populations, a few outliers exist: shitake mushroom extracts have been found to help prolong the lives of stomach cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy; maitake (hen-of-the-woods) and scaly wood mushroom extracts seem to strengthen the immune system of some breast cancer patients. Reishi extracts have been credited with reducing obesity in mice by altering gut bacteria, and in the lab, extracts of oyster mushrooms appear to inhibit growth of breast and colon cancer cells.

Sabaratnam’s research focuses on how mushrooms might someday help fight off dementia, which impacts approximately 50 million people today–with 10 million more added each year. She and her team reviewed studies of 20 different medicinal mushrooms thought to improve brain function, and about 80 different metabolites isolated from those mushrooms that were tested in cells in the lab and in mice. Their findings indicate that these metabolites improved recovery and function in damaged neural cells, and also had antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

“We have shown in lab experiments, yes, some of these properties are there…but it’s quite a long way to go” in terms of the mushroom extracts’ effect on humans. The edible mushrooms that contain high levels of nutrients and antioxidants are high in fiber and lower in cholesterol, and make for a positive addition to any diet.

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Immunotherapy: Investigating Cancer Research

The proliferation and advent of technology in medical research has spurred new techniques and treatments to combat cancer, a disease with an alarming mortality rate that will lead to an estimated 1,685,210 new cases in 2016, and 595,690 deaths.

The model of immunotherapy—using one’s body as the tool with which to fight cancer—has been considered an experimental treatment since its conception, in stark contrast to the standard chemotherapy and radiation that is traditionally offered for cancer patients. While chemotherapy directly attacks the cancer, immunotherapy harnesses the patient’s own immune system to fight off the disease.

The most widely used forms of immunotherapy include drugs called checkpoint inhibitors, which block a mechanism used by cancer cells to shut down the immune system, and cell therapy, which involves removing a patient’s immune cells, genetically altering them to help fight cancer, multiplying them, and ultimately infusing them back into the bloodstream.

While pharmaceutical companies initially were disinterested in the research and science, favoring drugs that had the ability to be mass-produced and treat everyone, drug companies are progressively funneling more money into clinical trials and tests—attempting to understand the powerful and critically important tool further.

Quoted in a New York Times article, Dr. Jedd Wolchok, chief of melanoma and immunotherapeutics services at Memorial Sloan Kettering, articulated what many doctors are experiencing as they begin to utilize this therapy, once considered a mere pipe dream: “This is a fundamental change in the way that we think about cancer therapy.”

Other doctors that have seen almost miraculous results in clinical trials have expressed similar sentiments: “Think of how dauntingly personalized this is,” says Dr. Steven A. Rosenberg, chief of surgery at the National Cancer Institute. “We are using their own cells to treat a unique mutation in their own tumor.” This individualized treatment has been proven to be effective in many cases, generating complete remissions in many patients who felt they were out of options.

Yet while immunotherapy has proven to be stunningly successful in several cases, doctors are continuing to explore why the treatment has a higher efficacy in some patients, while others relapse. Moreover, the arduous, lengthy, and complex process of re-engineering and duplicating cells is very costly, and is still undergoing scrutiny and examination.

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