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Link between poor diet and higher cancer risk

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Scientists uncover a missing link between poor diet and higher cancer risk


A research team from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has unearthed new findings that may help explain the connection between cancer risk and poor diet, as well as common diseases like diabetes, which arise from poor diet. 

The research team first studied patients who are at a high risk of developing breast or ovarian cancers because they inherit a faulty copy of the cancer gene—BRCA2—from their parents. They demonstrated that cells from such patients were particularly sensitive to the effects of methylglyoxal, which is a chemical produced when our cells break down glucose to create energy.

The study showed that this chemical can cause faults in our DNA that are early warning signs of cancer development.

Prof Venkitaraman said, "Our research suggests that patients with high methylglyoxal levels may have higher cancer risk. Methylglyoxal can be easily detected by a blood test for HbA1C, which could potentially be used as a marker. Furthermore, high methylglyoxal levels can usually be controlled with medicines and a good diet, creating avenues for proactive measures against the initiation of cancer."   [Emphasis added]

The study's first author, Dr. Li Ren Kong, Lee Kuan Yew Fellow from N2CR, added, "We started the study aiming to understand what factors elevate risk in families susceptible to cancer, but ended up discovering a deeper mechanism linking an essential energy consumption pathway to cancer development. These findings raise awareness of the impact of diet and weight control in the management of cancer risks."

the research team's work also revised a longstanding theory about certain cancer-preventing genes. This theory—called the Knudson's 'two-hit' paradigm—was first formulated in 1971, and it was proposed that these genes must be inactivated permanently in our cells before cancer can arise.

The NUS team has now found that methylglyoxal can temporarily inactivate such cancer-preventing genes, suggesting that repeated episodes of poor diet or uncontrolled diabetes can 'add up' over time to increase cancer risk. 


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