Everyone knows that being overweight/obese can lead to a multitude of medical problems: high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease just to name a few. But did you know that there is also an increased risk of developing cancer?

A study that was recently conducted at the University of Illinois shows a potential link between cancer and a high fat diet. Diets that are high in fat produce an increased amount of a substance called nitric oxide. Nitric oxide has been shown to increase inflammation in the body which in turn can cause damage to cells and can lead to the development of cancer over a long period of time.

The researchers conducted the study on lab mice. They used a molecular probing instrument which was able to detect varying levels of nitric oxide in the mice’s bodies after ingestion of foods that were high in fat and foods that had a low fat content.

Dr. Anuj Yadav, one of the study’s lead authors, stated that they are “trying to understand how subtle changes in the tumor microenvironment affect cancer progression at the molecular level.”

The researchers used a breed of lab mice which were already carrying breast cancer cells and split them into a high fat group (60% of calories came from fat) and a low fat group (10% of calories came from fat) and calculated nitric oxide levels in both groups. There was an increase in nitric oxide levels in the high fat group and they subsequently developed large tumors.

This study suggests that high levels of nitric oxide in a tumor microenvironment can lead to progression of cancer formation. However, high doses of nitric oxide are actually used in chemotherapy to kill tumor cells. Dr. Deepak Nagrath, another study author, said “a low concentration of nitric oxide supports tumor growth, proliferation, and metastasis, whereas a high concentration kills the cancer cells through DNA damage. This dual role of nitric oxide could also depend on diet and tumor microenvironment.”

This does not mean that consuming diets high in fat won’t lead to cancer development. Numerous factors play a role in determining when cells in the body become cancerous. There has long been an association between cancer incidence being higher in obese individuals. This study now shows a potential connection as to how this occurs at the molecular level. In any case, it is of utmost importance to maintain a healthy diet and active lifestyle to prevent long-term health complications from arising.

One critical component of this is getting routine health evaluations at a primary care physician’s office at least once per year.

Now that spring and summer are upon us, let’s make sure we all stay healthy and active!

Reference: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acscentsci.1c00317?ref=pdf

Dr. Neil Sinha
Dr. Neil Sinha