A High-Fat Diet Might Lead to Increased Cancer Risk

 man chokes down a cheeseburger, a staple of the high-fat diet

A man chokes down a cheeseburger, a staple of the high-fat diet | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Can’t get enough bacon, cheeseburgers, and other goodies loaded with fat? You might want to slow your intake down. A diet loaded with calories, cholesterol, and fat is all but certain to set you on the path toward heart disease or diabetes, for starters. But we’re now finding that your diet can have further consequences. For example, did you know that what you eat can lead to a cancer diagnosis if you’re not careful? A high-fat diet, according to new research.

We already know there have been studies and research in the past linking certain foods and habits to cancer. We know that smoking and alcohol consumption, for example, will increase your risk for certain types of cancer. There’s even evidence out there that eating certain red meat can increase your cancer risk. And now, we have further evidence of a link between your diet and cancer. New research shows high fat intake may increase your risk.

Increased cancer risk?

A doctor goes over a patient's x-ray, screening for colon cancer

A doctor goes over a patient’s X-ray, screening for colon cancer | American Cancer Society/Getty Images

A new study published in the journal Nature has shown fat intake may indeed be a catalyst for cancer. The study, paid for in part by Worldwide Cancer Research, a U.K.-based charity, and headed by Professor Salvador Aznar Benitah at the Institute for Research in Barcelona, found cancer cells spread more aggressively among mice fed a high-fat diet.

By studying a specific protein, Benitah’s team was able to conclude that fat intake can lead to faster spread of cancer cells. The protein, CD36, is found in the tumor cell membranes and consumes fatty acids. The researchers found the prevalence of the protein in different types of tumors plays an important role in the way cancerous cells spread.

From there, the team experimented with mice and human cancer cells. Some mice were fed a diet high in fat, while others were not. For the mice on the high-fat diet, tumors and cancer cells were far bigger and more aggressive. The link appears to be rooted in CD36’s dependence on fatty acids. So, the more fat intake, the more aggressive the cancer.

“In mice inoculated with human tumour cells, there appears to be a direct link between fat intake and an increase in metastatic potential through CD36, Benitah said, per a press release from World Wide Cancer Research.” More studies are needed to unravel this intriguing relationship, above all because industrialised countries are registering an alarming increase in the consumption of saturated fats and sugar.”

Fixing your high-fat diet

Packages of bacon are displayed

Packages of bacon are displayed | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

As Benitah said, there’s a lot more to look into here. So don’t panic quite yet. This study only looked at mice under very controlled circumstances. It’s not clear whether this translates to humans, though the trial did use human cancer cells in non-human hosts. So, it does appear that there’s something there. We’ll just need to wait for more information before abandoning bacon for good.

But we shouldn’t blow this off, either. There does appear to be a link between diets high in fat and chronic disease. Again, this isn’t anything new. What we can do, as individuals, is try and make better decisions when staring at a menu, or when filling the cart at the grocery store.

Should you avoid red meat? Or other foods high in fat? No, not necessarily. Fat is essential. Your body needs fats, along with proteins and other resources, to function. But if you’ve never given much thought to your eating habits, or tend to eat a lot of high-fat foods (fast food, fried foods, etc.), it wouldn’t hurt to consider alternatives. Of course, nobody likes to be told what to do or how to eat, but there are benefits to making different choices.

You’re not going to end up with a cancer diagnosis by eating a cheeseburger for dinner. The idea here is to look at long-term habits and see where there’s room for improvement.