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Anyone who has ever started a new diet or at least taken high school biology knows that proteins are essential to human health, keeping us fit and functional. However, a new study suggests that eliminating these essential molecules from the diet could also slow tumor growth, and aid in the success of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment for cancer patients.

According to a study conducted by researchers from Cancer Research UK, Beatson Institute, and the University of Glasgow, cutting out certain amino acids, which are the the building blocks of proteins, from the diet of mice slowed tumor growth and increased the sick animals’ overall survival. In addition, cutting out these amino acids also made some cancer cells more susceptible to chemicals called reactive oxygen species, The BBC reported. These chemicals are found inside cells, and chemotherapy and radiotherapy help to increase their levels in an effort to fight cancer. 

Read: Lack Of Protein In Diet Could Make You Consume More Calories, Study Suggests

While the results sound great so far, there are some major drawbacks and safety concerns associated with the diet plan. As previously mentioned, amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which are critical for human health. What’s more, according to Medical Xpress, cancer patients are even more reliant on getting these amino acids in their diet as their cells are less able to make sufficient levels of them when compared to the cells of healthy individuals.

"This kind of restricted diet would be a short term measure and must be carefully controlled and monitored by doctors for safety. Our diet is complex and protein — the main source of all amino acids — is vital for our health and well-being,” said study co-author Dr. Karen Vousden, The BBC reported. Vousden however emphasized that this diet could only be adhered to under the strict guidance of a health professional.

In addition, the diet did not affect all cancer cells with equal success. For example, cancer tumors with an activated Kras gene, such as the majority of pancreatic cancer tumors, were not affected by the diet change.

Protein is essential for building and repairing body tissue. According to WebMD, protein is also used to make enzymes, hormones, build bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. In other words, it’s a big part of our dietary needs. A new study also looked into the role that protein played in weight management, revealing that individuals who did not get enough protein in their diets will be programmed to overeat and consume unnecessary calories in an effort to make this protein quota.

The research has so far only been tested on mice and it’s still not clear if it would have the same effect on humans or if it’s even safe for use. However, unlike other cancer treatments, it would not involve patients taking more drugs and chemicals, which means it would be a more gentle cancer-fighting tool. According to the researchers, the next step would be human trials.

Source: Maddocks ODK, Athineos D, Cheung EC, et al. Modulating the therapeutic response of tumours to dietary serine and glycine starvation. Nature . 2017

See Also:

Cancer Treatment Has Come A Long Way In 2015: These Are The 5 Biggest Breakthroughs

Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis 2017: 2 New Biomarkers Help Detect Deadly Cancer Earlier, More Accurately, Researchers Say