Palm Oil Acid Could Increase the Spread of Cancer Cells: Study

Palmitic acid increased the spread of mouth cancer and melanoma in mice, but did not increase the overall risk of developing cancer

New research suggests the side effects of palmitic acid, which are found in palm oil and many vegetable oils, may increase the likelihood of tumor cells spreading in the body.

In findings published last week in the journal Nature, Spanish researchers warned about the risks associated with consuming palm oil, indicating that it likely promotes the spread of cancer, making tumor cells more aggressive.

Researchers exposed patients to a diet rich in palmitic acid. They transplanted oral tumor cells and skin melanomas from patients into mice.

According to their findings, palmitic acid promoted the growth of oral carcinomas and melanoma in mice. Tumor cells temporarily exposed to a diet rich in palmitic acid develop a more aggressive profile that endures as a form of cellular memory, the researchers discovered.

The tumors remained highly metastatic, even after being serially transplanted without being further exposed to palmitic acid. Exposure to the palm oil allowed the tumor cells to metastasize and grow more aggressively, even after exposure to palmitic acid stopped.

While the palmitic acid increased tumor aggressiveness and spread, it was not found to increase the risk of developing the cancer in the first place. However, it did encourage the growth of the tumor even when small or at a stage before the tumor had first been detected.

Researchers indicate the palmitic acid allows the tumor cells to form a type of neural network that can be used to grow tumor cells and spread to other parts of the body. Roughly, 90% of all cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, where tumor cells from one area of the body spread the cancer to other organs.

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The same researchers first published a study in 2017 which highlighted palmitic acid’s capability for metastasis, but they did not know the mechanism responsible for it. Now the research indicates how this occurs through a process of cell memory. This has allowed the researchers to hypothesize a therapeutic approach to reverse it.

Researchers think clinical applications can be developed using Schwann cells to help stop the metastasis. They hope to formulate therapies to block the cancer from spreading.

Palmitic acid is predominantly found in palm oil, which is the most widely used vegetable oil in the world and is found in many other foods, like pizza dough, instant noodles, ice cream, margarine, cookies, bread and chocolate. It is also used in consumer products like shampoo, detergent, soap, and lipstick.

Researchers noted the aggressive metastatic properties were found among cells exposed to palmitic acid, but not oleic acid or linoleic acid, found in olive oil and flaxseed.

The study provides a significant breakthrough as to how diet and cancer may be linked and how consumption of some foods may proliferate cancer cells, according to researchers.

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