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Finnish expert warns: Studies linking certain foods with cancer are still in early days

Recent laboratory testing has found links between amino acids and cancer. A top Finnish researcher says the results are preliminary, and warns people against changing their diets.

Tutkimusjohtaja Juha Klefström työpaikallaan Biomedicumissa.
Juha Klefström Image: Tanja Heino / Yle

University of Helsinki medical faculty research director Juha Klefström is concerned about the influence recent headlines on new cancer studies will have on the general public. Two studies have identified a link between amino acids and cancer cells, and some people are already taking steps to eliminate the associated foods from their diet.

Klefström says his team at the university's Biomedicum centre studies the metabolism of cancer cells and how metabolism-influencing medications developed for other illnesses affect breast cancer.

He says the Finnish researchers there finds the British research interesting, but says it will be many years before things have progressed to the point that the results can be applied to cancer care.

Amino acids found in many foods

In April 2017, a team of researchers from Glasgow University found that cutting back on the ingestion of the non-essential amino acids serine and glycine can reduce tumour growth in cases of lymphoma and intestinal cancer.

A similar study from Cambridge recently found that limiting asparagine intake slowed the generation of tumour cells for breast cancer in mice.

Asparagine is one of 20 amino acids found in the natural world. It is found in milk products, beef, poultry, eggs, fish and other seafood. It got its name from asparagus, but it is also found in potatoes, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy and whole grains. The human body also produces asparagine, which affects brain function, among other things.

Big differences between mice and humans

Klefström says that treating cancer in mice is something entirely different from treating cancer in humans. He says asparagine exists in numerous nutritious foods, and a diverse and high nutrient content diet is the cornerstone of a healthy immune system.

He says it's a long journey from research to a treatment breakthrough. Clinical tests on humans will first be required.

"There are many big questions: which types of cancer will it work on, and what kinds of cancer genes it can affect. All these questions must be answered before we can start apply lab experiments with mice to people."

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