Red meat and dairy products have long been associated with potential health hazards, most notably cancer. A recent investigation, however, conducted at the University of Chicago, has revealed a curious variation.
Researchers have discovered that a nutrient found in red meat and dairy, known as trans-vaccenic acid (TVA), may actually enhance the body’s ability to combat cancer cells.
TVA is a long-chain fatty acid that the human body cannot produce independently. It is primarily sourced from ruminant-derived foods such as beef, lamb, milk, and butter.
This pioneering study involved the compilation of a database comprising around 700 metabolites derived from food that are detected in the human circulation.
They subsequently investigated whether any of these compounds could enhance the ability of the immune system to recognize and eliminate cancer cells.
The focus was on CD8+ T cells, also known as killer T cells, which play a vital role in identifying and destroying infected cells, including tumors.
Among the candidates evaluated, TVA yielded the most promising results, enhancing the function of CD8+ T cells and intensifying the immune system’s response against tumor growth.
Red Meat and Dairy Nutrients in Cancer Research
In subsequent experiments involving mice, those fed a diet enriched with TVA displayed significantly reduced tumor growth, particularly in melanomas and colon cancer. Moreover, their T cells demonstrated improved infiltration of the tumors.
The researchers extended their investigation to patients undergoing immunotherapy treatment for lymphoma. They found that individuals with higher levels of TVA in their blood tended to respond more positively to immunotherapy.
However, the study’s lead author, Jing Chen, emphasized that this discovery does not advocate excessive consumption of red meat and dairy. Instead, it underscores the potential of bioactive nutrients from these foods to promote anti-cancer activities.
Chen suggested that taking supplements with enriched bioactive nutrients might be a more efficient approach than solely relying on dietary sources.
Furthermore, the study hinted at the potential of plant-based nutrients in the fight against cancer.
While TVA from animal products shows promise, Chen explained that plant-derived fatty acids may also have similar effects, emphasizing the need for comprehensive research to explore the functions of various nutrients derived from diverse foods.