Researchers Discover A Potential New Link Between Cancer And A High Fat Diet

While fat is essential for the body, high amounts of unhealthy fat can be dangerous and contribute to weight gain, gastrointestinal problems, inflammation, and type 2 diabetes (via Livestrong). In fact, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) even warns that high-fat diets may be linked to cancer. For this reason, experts recommend limiting saturated fats to no more than 10% of one's calorie intake, and minimizing intake of trans fatty acids. These fats are often found in fast foods, processed foods, or refined goods, notes Livestrong.

When it comes to cancer, new research suggests that the link may be because high-fat diets increase the levels of nitric oxide where tumors develop (per Medical News Today). High levels of nitric oxide have been associated with inflammation, and inflammation can contribute to cancer, according to the NCI

Dr. Anuj Yadav, the lead co-author of the study, explained that the purpose of the study was to try "to understand how subtle changes in the tumor microenvironment affect cancer progression at the molecular level" (per Medical News Today).

What's the link between nitric oxide and cancer?

It's been well-researched that a diet high in fat creates inflammation which can contribute to cancer and other diseases (via Frontiers in Immunology). A major problem is that high-fat diets directly impact gut health by causing intestinal cells to proliferate, which can contribute to tumor development (via Trends in Cancer).

Nitric oxide comes into play because it is also linked to inflammation, according to a 2022 study. In order to fully assess the relationship between cancer and nitric oxide, researchers created a molecular probe to capture images of nitric oxide in the body (per Medical News Today). Associate professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan Dr. Deepak Nagrath told Medical News Today that nitric oxide (NO) affects tumor growth in a complex manner, which is also influenced by diet and tumor microenvironment.

Dr. Douglas D. Thomas, associate professor in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy at the University of Illinois, who was uninvolved in the study, explained to Medical News Today, "In some cases, the presence of NO (or the enzymes that make NO) correlates to better patient prognosis, but more often NO is associated with more aggressive cancers." He notes that more research is needed before a causal mechanistic link can be made between a high-fat diet, levels of nitric oxide detected, and worse outcomes.