Palm Oil Aids Cancer Spread — New Study

Fatty acids (FAs) are the main building blocks of the fat in our bodies and the food we eat. They can serve as fuel for metabolic pathways.

There are three main types of FA, categorized by their chemistry: monounsaturated FAs, which are associated with a reduced risk coronary heart disease, polyunsaturated FAs, which are protective against the risk of dementia and coronary heart disease, saturated FAs and trans fats, which are associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. 

More than 20 kinds of FAs are in foods, and according to the American Heart Association (AHA), “For good health, the majority of the fats that you eat should be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated,” as opposed to saturated or trans fats, which people should avoid.

Rewiring the cell

Cancer cells can rewire their metabolism to produce the energy needed for their growth and ultimate survival. FA metabolism plays an important role in providing energy and macromolecules for cancer development.

Palm oil and cancer spread

A study has now shown that palmitic acid, an FA found in palm oil, which is a common ingredient in cakes, biscuits, and chocolate, can increase the metastasis, or spread, of cancer.

According to an earlier study, from 2019, more than 65%Trusted Source of deaths due to solid tumor cancer had metastases as a registered contributing cause. 

Metastasis happens when cancer cells come away from the main tumor mass and enter the blood or lymph streams, allowing them to travel and grow into tumors in other parts of the body.

The new study, published in Nature, has sought to understand whether different FAs cause changes that increase the risk of cancer metastasis — and if so, how?

Dr. Salvador Aznar-Benitah, of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine, in Barcelona, led the research. The team exposed human mouth and skin cancer cells to three dietary FAs: palmitic acid, oleic acid, and linoleic acid. After 4 days of exposure, the researchers transferred the cells to where they would belong in mice. They received a typical diet.

None of the FAs promoted cancer formation, but palmitic acid, the main saturated FA in palm oil, promoted the increased expression of genes associated with metastasis and the size of existing metastatic lesions.

The effects of FAs may differ, depending on tumor type. For instance, in this study, oleic acid inhibited the spread of both mouth and skin cancers, but previous studies found that it promoted cervical cancers.

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