Switching over to a low-fat diet might provide protection against liver cancer, finds a new study.
The research team from University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Case Western Reserve University found that a high-fat diet predisposed the cancer-susceptible strain to liver cancer, and that by switching to a low-fat diet early in the experiment, the same high-risk mice avoided the malignancy.
Senior co-author Dr John Lambris, the Dr. Ralph and Sallie Weaver Professor of Research Medicine at Penn believes that a similar change in diet may have important implications for preventing liver cancers in humans.
"The connection between obesity and cancer is not well understood at this point," said Lambris.
The team hopes that the results will lead to the development of blood tests that can detect precancerous conditions related to diet.
The investigators focussed their study on hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), a type of liver cancer that is one of the leading causes of cancer death worldwide.
They tested the long-term effects of high-fat and low-fat diets on males of two inbred strains of mice and discovered that one strain, named C57BL/6J, was susceptible to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and hepatocellular carcinoma on a high-fat, but not a low-fat diet.
The other strain, called A/J, was not susceptible to disease on a high-fat diet. The mice were fed their respective diets for close to 500 days, weighed periodically, and then analyzed for the presence of disease.
At the end of the experiment, mice susceptible to cancer showed characteristics of NASH such as inflammation and fibrosis, and, in some cases, cirrhosis as well as hepatocellular carcinoma, in their livers.
A switch from a high-fat to a low-fat diet reversed these outcomes in groups of C57BL/6J mice that were fed a high-fat diet early in the experiment.
The switched mice were lean rather than obese and had healthy livers at the end of the study.
The study appears online in Human Molecular Genetics.