Starving Cancer with Methionine Restriction

Starving Cancer with Methionine Restriction
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Methionine restriction—best achieved through a plant-based diet—may prove to have a major impact on patients with cancer because, unlike normal tissues, many human tumors require the amino acid methionine to grow.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In designing an antibiotic, you couldn’t create a drug that destroyed DNA, for example, because that’s something that both humans and bacteria share in common. It would kill bacteria, all right, but it might kill us, too. So, many antibiotics work by attacking the bacterial cell walls—something bacteria have, that we don’t.

Antifungals can attack the unique cell walls of fungus. Pesticides can work by attacking the special exoskeleton of insects. But, fighting cancer is harder, because cancer cells are our own cells. So, fighting cancer comes down to trying to find and exploit differences between cancer cells and normal cells.

Forty years ago, a landmark paper was published showing for the first time that many human cancers have what’s called absolute methionine dependency, meaning you can grow normal cells in a petri dish without giving them the amino acid methionine. “Normal cells thrive.” But, without methionine, cancer cells die. Normal breast cells, for example, grow no matter what—with or without. But, here’s leukemia cells, they need that extra added methionine to grow, or they just flatline.

What does cancer do with the methionine? Tumors generate “gaseous sulfur-containing compounds” with it, that specially trained diagnostic dogs can actually pick up. There are mole-sniffing dogs that can pick out skin cancer. There are breath-sniffing dogs that can pick out people with lung cancer. Pee-sniffing dogs that can diagnose bladder cancer. And, yes, you guessed it, fart-sniffing dogs for colorectal cancer. Doctors can now bring their Lab to the lab. Gives a whole new meaning to the term “pet scan.”

Anyway, methionine dependency is not just present in cancer cell lines in a petri dish. Fresh tumors taken from patients show that many cancers appear to have biochemical defects that makes them methionine-dependent—”including [some] tumors of the colon, breast, ovary, prostate, and [skin].”

Chemo companies are fighting to be the first to come out “methionine-depleting drugs,” but, since “methionine is sourced mainly from food,” a better strategy may be to lower methionine levels by lowering methionine intake—eliminating high-methionine foods for cancer growth control.

Here’s the thinking; look. “Smoking cessation, consumption of diets rich in [plants],…and other lifestyle measures can prevent the majority of cancers.” Unfortunately, people don’t do them, and, “as a result, each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans develop metastatic cancer. Chemotherapy cures only a few types of metastatic cancer…Unfortunately, the vast majority of common metastatic cancers…[like breast, prostate, colon, and lung] are lethal. We therefore desperately need novel treatment strategies for metastatic cancer. Dietary methionine restriction may be one such strategy.”

So, where is methionine found? Particularly chicken, and fish. Milk, red meat, and eggs have less. But, if you really want to stick with lower methionine foods, fruits, nuts, veggies, grains, and beans. In other words, “methionine restriction may be achieved using a predominately vegan diet.”

So, why isn’t every oncologist doing this? “Despite many promising preclinical and clinical studies in recent years, dietary methionine restriction and other dietary approaches to cancer treatment have not yet gained wide[spread] clinical application. Most clinicians and investigators are probably unfamiliar with nutritional approaches to cancer. [Ah, that’s an understatement.] Many others may consider amino acid restriction as an ‘old idea,’ since it has been examined for several decades. However, many good ideas remain latent for decades if not centuries before they prove valuable in the clinic…With the proper development, dietary methionine restriction, either alone or in combination with other treatments, may [also] prove to have a major impact on patients with cancer.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to USDAGajda-13California Department of Fish and GamePingpongwillKacper “Kangel” AniołekNMajikWilfredo R. Rodriguez H.ScarceRanko, & The Noun Project via Wikimedia; and Veganbaking.netthe queen of subtle via flickr. Thanks to Ellen Reid, Maxim Fetissenko, PhD, and Laurie-Marie Pisciotta for their Keynote help.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In designing an antibiotic, you couldn’t create a drug that destroyed DNA, for example, because that’s something that both humans and bacteria share in common. It would kill bacteria, all right, but it might kill us, too. So, many antibiotics work by attacking the bacterial cell walls—something bacteria have, that we don’t.

Antifungals can attack the unique cell walls of fungus. Pesticides can work by attacking the special exoskeleton of insects. But, fighting cancer is harder, because cancer cells are our own cells. So, fighting cancer comes down to trying to find and exploit differences between cancer cells and normal cells.

Forty years ago, a landmark paper was published showing for the first time that many human cancers have what’s called absolute methionine dependency, meaning you can grow normal cells in a petri dish without giving them the amino acid methionine. “Normal cells thrive.” But, without methionine, cancer cells die. Normal breast cells, for example, grow no matter what—with or without. But, here’s leukemia cells, they need that extra added methionine to grow, or they just flatline.

What does cancer do with the methionine? Tumors generate “gaseous sulfur-containing compounds” with it, that specially trained diagnostic dogs can actually pick up. There are mole-sniffing dogs that can pick out skin cancer. There are breath-sniffing dogs that can pick out people with lung cancer. Pee-sniffing dogs that can diagnose bladder cancer. And, yes, you guessed it, fart-sniffing dogs for colorectal cancer. Doctors can now bring their Lab to the lab. Gives a whole new meaning to the term “pet scan.”

Anyway, methionine dependency is not just present in cancer cell lines in a petri dish. Fresh tumors taken from patients show that many cancers appear to have biochemical defects that makes them methionine-dependent—”including [some] tumors of the colon, breast, ovary, prostate, and [skin].”

Chemo companies are fighting to be the first to come out “methionine-depleting drugs,” but, since “methionine is sourced mainly from food,” a better strategy may be to lower methionine levels by lowering methionine intake—eliminating high-methionine foods for cancer growth control.

Here’s the thinking; look. “Smoking cessation, consumption of diets rich in [plants],…and other lifestyle measures can prevent the majority of cancers.” Unfortunately, people don’t do them, and, “as a result, each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans develop metastatic cancer. Chemotherapy cures only a few types of metastatic cancer…Unfortunately, the vast majority of common metastatic cancers…[like breast, prostate, colon, and lung] are lethal. We therefore desperately need novel treatment strategies for metastatic cancer. Dietary methionine restriction may be one such strategy.”

So, where is methionine found? Particularly chicken, and fish. Milk, red meat, and eggs have less. But, if you really want to stick with lower methionine foods, fruits, nuts, veggies, grains, and beans. In other words, “methionine restriction may be achieved using a predominately vegan diet.”

So, why isn’t every oncologist doing this? “Despite many promising preclinical and clinical studies in recent years, dietary methionine restriction and other dietary approaches to cancer treatment have not yet gained wide[spread] clinical application. Most clinicians and investigators are probably unfamiliar with nutritional approaches to cancer. [Ah, that’s an understatement.] Many others may consider amino acid restriction as an ‘old idea,’ since it has been examined for several decades. However, many good ideas remain latent for decades if not centuries before they prove valuable in the clinic…With the proper development, dietary methionine restriction, either alone or in combination with other treatments, may [also] prove to have a major impact on patients with cancer.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to USDAGajda-13California Department of Fish and GamePingpongwillKacper “Kangel” AniołekNMajikWilfredo R. Rodriguez H.ScarceRanko, & The Noun Project via Wikimedia; and Veganbaking.netthe queen of subtle via flickr. Thanks to Ellen Reid, Maxim Fetissenko, PhD, and Laurie-Marie Pisciotta for their Keynote help.

Doctor's Note

This can be considered a companion video to Anti-Angiogenesis: Cutting Off Tumor Supply Lines, in which this same diet could starve these same tumors of their blood supply.

There are compounds in animal products that may actually stimulate tumor growth. See How Tumors Use Meat to Grow: Xeno-Autoantibodies. Animal protein may also boost levels of the cancer-promoting hormone IGF-1 (see The Answer to the Pritikin Puzzle). Combined, this could all help explain why plants and plant-based diets have been found effective in potentially reversing some cancer processes. See Cancer Reversal through Diet?Strawberries vs. Esophageal Cancer; and Black Raspberries vs. Oral Cancer.

Sorry if you were distracted by the pet puns—I couldn’t help it! :) Another way companion animals may protect against cancer is explored in Pets & Human Lymphoma.

Why might the medical profession be so resistant to therapies proven to be effective? The Tomato Effect may be partially to blame.

If you were looking closely at the title of the review I featured (see A review of methionine dependency and the role of methionine restriction in cancer growth control and life-span extension), noting that plant-based diets may prove to be a useful nutritional strategy in cancer growth control, you’ll notice it also looked at the role of methionine restriction in lifespan extension. That’s the topic of Methionine Restriction as a Life-Extension Strategy.

For further context, check out my associated blog posts: Top 10 Most Popular Videos of 2013A Low-Methionine Diet May Help Starve Cancer Cells; and How Plant-Based Diets May Extend Our Lives.

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