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Can a change in diet boost cancer therapy?

The importance of nutrition to our health is becoming clearer and clearer. A recent study published in the journal Nature showed that the effectiveness of cancer treatments improved thanks to a diet low in a particular amino acid known as methionine.

Methionine is an essential amino acid – our bodies can’t make it so we need to get it in our diet. It is found in many foods, with meat and eggs particularly rich in the substance.

While we do need it, too much methionine could work against us. A 1993 study found that rats lived longer when methionine in their diet was restricted. Now this new research suggests that reducing methionine intake could have anti-cancer effects.

The study showed that feeding a low-methionine diet to mice slowed tumour growth. Then, the researchers found that a low dose of a chemotherapy drug – too low to slow tumour growth on its own – was effective when combined with a low-methionine diet.

They also found that reducing methionine intake helped slow tumour growth in conjunction with radiotherapy, in a type of tumour that does not usually respond to radiation treatment.

When researchers fed humans a restricted methionine diet, they saw similar metabolic changes to those seen in the mice.

While any improvement in our understanding of cancer is valuable, it is important to be aware that cancer is a complex problem and there are no simple solutions. The researchers warn that this research is in its early stages and that reducing methionine intake could actually increase the growth of some cancers in humans.

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