Study Focuses On Molecular Link Between Diet And Risk Of Cancer

A team of researchers has identified a direct molecular link between meat and dairy diets and the development of antibodies in the blood that increase the chances of developing cancer. 

This is a connection that may explain the high incidence of cancer among those who consume large amounts of dairy products and red meat. This is similar to the link between high cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease.

The study was led by Dr.Vered Padler-Karavani of the Department of Cell Research and Immunology at the Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research at Tel Aviv University’s George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences. 

The results of the research were published on September 23, 2020, in BMC Medicine. 

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Neu5Gc is a sugar molecule that is found in the tissues of mammals but not in poultry or fish. When humans are first exposed to dairy and meat products they develop antibodies to Neu5Gc in infancy. 

While it is known that these antibodies increase the risk of cancer, especially colorectal cancer, no direct link had been found between the antibodies and meat and dairy consumption. 

Salam Bashir, a Ph.D. student in Dr. Padler-Karavani’s lab, together with other team members measured the amount of Neu5Gc sugar in a variety of dairy and meat foods common in the French diet and calculated the daily Neu5Gc intake of 19,621 adults aged 18 and over, who reported all of their food intakes online over several days.

Samples from NutriNet-Sante were used by researchers, an extensive national nutritional survey conducted in France.

Representative samples of 120 participants were taken by the research team and the levels of the anti-Neu5Gc antibodies in their blood were tested.

Based on these findings and the quantification of Neu5Gc sugar in various food products from France, Dr. Padler-Karavani and her team created an index called the Glycemic index. 

This index ranks foods whose excessive consumption can lead to an increase in the antibodies – and possibly to an increase in the risk of cancer.

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“We found a significant correlation between high consumption of Neu5Gc from red meat and cheeses and increased development of those antibodies that heighten the risk of cancer,” Dr. Padler-Karavani says.

“For years there have been efforts to find such a connection, but no one did. Here, for the first time, we were able to find a molecular link thanks to the accuracy of the methods used to measure the antibodies in the blood and the detailed data from the French diet questionnaires.” 

This combination of methods allowed the researchers to predict that those who eat a lot of red meat and cheese will develop high levels and a different variety of antibodies, and therefore they can be at higher risk for cancer – especially colorectal cancer and other cancers as well, added Dr. Padler. 

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