Vitamin D Might Help Immune System Fight Melanoma, Finds Study
Recent research has found that vitamin D intake can reduce the aggressiveness of melanoma cancer cells. This study, conducted by researchers from the University of Leeds, found that vitamin D influenced signalling pathway within melanoma cells that slowed their growth and stopped their spreading to the lungs in mice.
 
The research has been published in Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. Although the research is still in its early stages, the findings could, ultimately, lead to new ways to treat melanoma. 
 
According to the data published in this study, the survival rate of melanoma-afflicted patients has nearly doubled in the past four decades, even though 16,000 new cases are diagnosed annually. Around 300 patients are diagnosed with melanoma in its most advanced stage each year in England, at which point the disease is particularly aggressive and difficult to treat. At this late stage, only 55% of patients survive for one year or more, whereas nearly all of those diagnosed at the earliest stage survive to this point. 
 
Previous research has shown that lower levels of vitamin D circulating in the body are linked to worse outcomes for people with melanoma, but researchers have not yet fully understood the mechanisms that cause this. 
 
For this study, lead author Professor Newton-Bishop from the University of Leeds and her team wanted to understand the processes that were being regulated by vitamin D in melanoma cells. They also wanted to study the outcome of having a lack of a protein on the surface of melanoma cells called a vitamin D receptor (VDR) which assists vitamin D in binding to the cell’s surface. 
 
Researchers looked at the expression of the VDR-coding gene in 703 human melanoma tumors and in 353 human melanoma tumours that had metastasised or spread from their primary site. Expression of VDR was then cross-referenced with other patient data, like the tumour thickness and speed of growth. On analysis of the data, researchers also wanted to see if the VDR concentrations in human melanoma cells were correlated to the genetic changes occurring as the tumour becomes more aggressive. Researchers used mouse models to assess whether VDR concentrations altered the cancer’s ability to spread. 
 
The study found that human tumours with low levels of the VDR gene grew faster and a lower activity of genes that control pathways that help the immune system fight cancer cells. Furthermore, tumours with lower VDR levels also had a higher activity of genes linked to cancer growth and spread, especially those controlling the Wnt/β-catenin signalling pathway, which helps to modulate a variety of biological processes within the cell, such as its growth.
 
While testing in mice, they found that increasing the amount of VDF on the melanoma cells reduced activity of the Wnt/β-catenin pathway and slowed down the growth of the melanoma cells. Cancer was also less likely to spread to their lungs in such cases.  
 
“After years of research, we finally know how vitamin D works with VDR to influence the behaviour of melanoma cells by reducing activity of the Wnt/β-catenin pathway,” Prof Newton-Bishop said. “This new puzzle piece will help us better understand how melanoma grows and spreads, and hopefully find new targets to control it. But what’s really intriguing, is that we can now see how vitamin D might help the immune system fight cancer.”
 
“We know when the Wnt/β-catenin pathway is active in melanoma, it can dampen down the immune response causing fewer immune cells to reach the inside of the tumour, where they could potentially fight the caner better,” she continued. “Although vitamin D on its own won’t treat cancer, we could take insights from the way it works to boost the effects of immunotherapy, which uses the immune system to find and attack cancer cells.”  
 
Martin Ledwick, head information nurse at Cancer Research UK, further explained, “Vitamin D is important for our muscle and bone health and the NHS already recommends getting 10 micrograms per day as part of our diet or as supplements, especially in the winter months. People who have been newly diagnosed with melanoma should have their vitamin D levels checked and managed accordingly. If you are worried about your vitamin D levels, it’s best to speak to your doctor who can help ensure you are not deficient.”
 
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    Mushrooms Might Reduce Prostate Cancer Risk, Says Study
    Treatment for prostate cancer is continually improving but, currently, there is neither a cure nor a way to prevent it. However, researchers have recently discovered that eating mushrooms may help reduce the risk of such cancers. The beneficial effect is relatively minor, but the findings are likely to inspire further investigation. 
     
    The study was led by researchers at the University School of Public Health (Japan) and has been published in the International Journal of Cancer. For the study, a total of 36,499 men between the ages of 40 and 79 were surveyed and asked to complete a questionnaire about lifestyle choices, such as diet (including mushroom consumption), physical activity, smoking and drinking habits. Participants were also asked to provide information on their education, family and medical history. 
     
    Each participant was then categorised into one of five groups, based on their level of mushroom consumption: almost never (6.9%), 1-2 times a month (36.8%), 1-2 times a week (36%), 3-4 times a week (15.7%) and almost every day (4.6%). During the follow-up period, researchers discovered 1,204 cases of prostate cancer among the participants, a total of 3.3%.
     
    Analysis of the data, after controlling for variables, revealed a significant beneficial effect of mushroom consumption. Compared with those who ate mushrooms less than once a week, those who ate mushrooms 1-2 times each week had an 8% lower relative risk of prostate cancer. Those who ate mushrooms 3-4 times each week had a 17% lower relative risk. Eating mushrooms also appeared to be particularly beneficial among men aged 50 and older, among those who consumed a large amount of meat and dairy products and little fruit and vegetables. 
     
    “Test-tube studies and studies conducted on living organisms have shown that mushrooms have the potential to prevent prostate cancer. However, the relationship between mushroom consumption and incidence of prostate cancer in humans has never been investigated before. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first cohort study indicating the prostate cancer-preventive potential of mushrooms at a population level,” said lead researcher Dr Zhang Shu.
     
    Mushrooms are a relatively inexpensive and a widely consumed food throughout the world. In recent years, studies have begun to identify their potential disease fighting capabilities. According to the study, mushrooms are a good source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which are believed to mitigate oxidative stress. This type of stress comes through a cellular imbalance caused by poor diet and lifestyle choices. Mushrooms have also been known to mitigate exposure to environmental toxins which lead to chronic inflammation and, eventually, to chronic diseases such as cancer. 
     
    However, there are certain limitations to the study. Firstly, using self-reported dietary information is not ideal because it is open to error and misreporting. But for a study of this size, there is no viable alternative. As the study is purely observational, the authors cannot definitively conclude that mushrooms caused the reduction in cancer risk. Although this research was not designed to uncover how mushrooms might protect against cancer, the authors believe that this effect might be due to their antioxidants. 
     
    “The results of our study suggest mushrooms may have a positive health effect on humans,” said Dr Zhang. “Based on these findings, further studies that provide more information on dietary intake of mushrooms in other populations and settings are required to confirm this relationship.” 
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    Controversial Study Says No Harm Consuming Red Meat
    After several years of warnings about the potential damage, including cancer and heart disease, caused by consumption of red meat and processed meat, a panel of experts from seven countries has recently said that people should not necessarily cut down on their consumption of red meat products like ham, sausage and bacon. 
     
    These controversial recommendations, which have been published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, were made by nutriRECS, a consortium of experts that describes its mission as producing trustworthy nutritional guidelines. 
     
    Prof Gordon Guyatt, chair of the guideline committee from McMaster University (Canada) said that the research group with a panel of 14 members from seven countries used a rigorous systematic review methodology and methods which rate the certainty of evidence for each outcome, to move from evidence to dietary recommendations to develop their guidelines. “There is a worldwide interest in nutrition and the issue of red meat in particular. People need to be able to make decisions about their own diet based on the best information available,” he added. 
     
    Dr Bradley Johnston, part-time associate professor at McMaster University and associate professor at Dalhousie University, is one of the corresponding authors of the new guideline. He explained that the research team realises its work is contrary to many current nutritional guidelines. “This is not just another study on red and processed meat, but a series of high quality systematic reviews resulting in recommendations we think are far more transparent, robust and reliable,” he added. 
     
    To arrive at their conclusion, researchers performed a series of systematic reviews focused on randomised controlled trials and observational studies looking at the impact of red meat and processed meat consumption on cardio-metabolic and cancer outcomes. In a review of 12 trials with 54,000 people, the researchers did not find statistically significant or important association between meat consumption and the risk of heart disease, diabetes or cancer. In three systematic reviews of cohort studies following millions of people, the researchers found a very small reduction in risk among those who had three or fewer servings of red or processed meat a week; but the association was uncertain. 
     
    Dr Johnston said, “We focused exclusively on health outcomes and did not consider animal welfare or environmental concerns when making our recommendations. We are however sympathetic to animal welfare and environmental concerns with a number of the guideline panel members having eliminated or reduced their personal red and processed meat intake for these reasons.” 
     
    The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has historically advised people to avoid processed meat altogether or eat very little of it, while limiting red meat to about three portions a week. After the study was published, the WCRF gathered a team of organisations—including from the World Health Organisation—to hit back at the latest findings, saying that there is good evidence of link between red and processed meat and bowel cancer. 
     
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