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Once again research finds that drinking sugar sweetened soft drinks or fruit drinks (not juices) is unhealthy. This time a study found that drinking one or more such beverages daily was linked to a higher rate of liver cancer and death from chronic liver diseases, when compared to those drinking 3 or fewer such drinks per month.

This is an important finding because the majority of adults in the US consume one or more sweetened beverages daily! On the other hand, in this study drinking one or more artificially sweetened soda and drinks daily did not have an increased rate of liver cancer or death from chronic liver disease.

By the way, the researchers kept referring to the sweetener as sugar, but in reality the sweetener in (almost) all such beverages is high fructose corn syrup.

Excerpts from Science Daily: Women who consumed sugar sweetened beverage daily had higher risk of developing liver cancer and chronic liver disease

Approximately 65% of adults in the United States consume sugar sweetened beverages daily. Chronic liver disease is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide and can result in liver cancer and liver disease-related mortality. ...continue reading "Drinking Soda and Fruit Drinks Daily Linked to Risk of Liver Cancer and Death From Chronic Liver Diseases"

Image result for meat, fish, eggs It is important to eat a varied diet for health, one that focuses on the food groups (and no - cookies and cake are not necessary foods). The first study looks at liver cancer risk and selenium - which is found in fish, shellfish, meat, milk, eggs, and certain South American nuts, such as Brazil nuts. The second article focuses on colorectal cancer and retinoic acid, a compound derived in the body from vitamin A. Vitamin A rich foods can provide you with retinoic acid, such as the lungs, kidneys, and liver of beef, lamb, pork. Also poultry giblets, eggs, cod liver oil, shrimp, fish, fortified milk, butter, cheddar cheese and Swiss cheese. Red and orange vegetables and fruits such as sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, pumpkins, cantaloupes, apricots, peaches and mangoes all contain significant amounts of beta-carotene, thus retinoids. Note that research generally has found health benefits from real foods, not from supplements.

From Science Daily:  Selenium status influence cancer risk

As a nutritional trace element, selenium forms an essential part of our diet. Researchers have been able to show that high blood selenium levels are associated with a decreased risk of developing liver cancer. Selenium (Se) is found in foods like fish, shellfish, meat, milk and eggs; certain South American nuts, such as Brazil nuts, are also good sources of selenium. It is a trace element that occurs naturally in soil and plants, and enters the bodies of humans and animals via the food they ingest. European soil has a rather low selenium concentration, in comparison with other areas of the world, especially in comparison to North America. Deficiencies of varying degrees of severity are common among the general population, and are the reason why German livestock receive selenium supplements in their feed.

While in Europe, neither a selenium-rich diet nor adequate selenium supplementation is associated with adverse effects, selenium deficiency is identified as a risk factor for a range of diseases. "We have been able to show that selenium deficiency is a major risk factor for liver cancer," says Prof. Dr. Lutz Schomburg of the Institute of Experimental Endocrinology, adding: "According to our data, the third of the population with lowest selenium status have a five- to ten-fold increased risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma -- also known as liver cancer."....Previous studies had suggested a similar relationship between a person's selenium status and their risk of developing colon cancer, as well as their risk of developing autoimmune thyroid disease. (Original study)

From Science Daily: Retinoic acid suppresses colorectal cancer development, study finds

Retinoic acid, a compound derived in the body from vitamin A, plays a critical role in suppressing colorectal cancer in mice and humans, according to researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Mice with the cancer have lower-than-normal levels of the metabolite in their gut, the researchers found. Furthermore, colorectal cancer patients whose intestinal tissues express high levels of a protein that degrades retinoic acid tend to fare more poorly than their peers.

"The intestine is constantly bombarded by foreign organisms," said Edgar Engleman, MD, professor of pathology and of medicine. "As a result, its immune system is very complex. There's a clear link in humans between inflammatory bowel disease, including ulcerative colitis, and the eventual development of colorectal cancer. Retinoic acid has been known for years to be involved in suppressing inflammation in the intestine. We wanted to connect the dots and learn whether and how retinoic acid levels directly affect cancer development."

"We found that bacteria, or molecules produced by bacteria, can cause a massive inflammatory reaction in the gut that directly affects retinoic acid metabolism," said Engleman. "Normally retinoic acid levels are regulated extremely tightly. This discovery could have important implications for the treatment of human colorectal cancer."

Further investigation showed that retinoic acid blocks or slows cancer development by activating a type of immune cell called a CD8 T cell. These T cells then kill off the cancer cells. In mice, lower levels of retinoic acid led to reduced numbers and activation of CD8 T cells in the intestinal tissue and increased the animals' tumor burden, the researchers found. "It's become very clear through many studies that chronic, smoldering inflammation is a very important risk factor for many types of cancer," said Engleman.

Very exciting research IF it pans out - the idea of treating (some) cancers with probiotics (beneficial bacteria). This study was done on mice, and some mice started the probiotic mixture one week before they gave the mice the liver cancer, so...more limitations there. But the idea is so tantalizing and wonderful... And what was in the mixture of bacteria (called probiotic Prohep) that the mice ate that had beneficial results of shrinking liver tumors? The probiotic Prohep is composed of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG), Escherichia coli Nissle 1917 (EcN), and heat inactivated VSL#3 (1:1:1).  VSL#3 contains: Streptococcus thermophilus, Bifidobacterium breve, Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium infantis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus paracasei, and Lactobacillus delbrueckii. Note that Lactobacillus rhamnosus and some of the others are already found in many probiotic mixtures. From Medical Xpress:

Probiotics dramatically modulate liver cancer growth in mice

Medical research over the last decade has revealed the effects of the gut microbiome across a range of health markers including inflammation, immune response, metabolic function and weight....Previous studies have demonstrated the beneficial role of probiotics in reducing gastrointestinal inflammation and preventing colorectal cancer, but a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explored their immunomodulatory effects on extraintestinal tumors: specifically, in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)HCC is the most common type of liver cancer, and though it is relatively uncommon in the United States, it's the second-most deadly type of cancer worldwide and is particularly prevalent in regions with high rates of hepatitis. 

The researchers designed a study in a mouse model of HCC that quantified the immunological effects of a novel probiotic formulation called Prohep. They fed the mice Prohep for a week prior to tumor inoculation, and they observed a 40 percent reduction of tumor weight and size compared with control animals. Further, they established that the beneficial effects of the probiotics were closely related to the abundance of beneficial bacteria promoted by Prohep. These bacteria produce anti-inflammatory metabolites, which regulated pro-inflammatory immune cell populations via crosstalk between the gut and the liver tumor.

Among their findings, the researchers report that the probiotics reduced liver tumor growth by inhibiting angiogenesis, the process by which the body generates new blood vessels from existing ones, which is essential for tumor growth. They found significantly raised levels of hypoxic GLUT-1+, indicating that tumor reductions were due to hypoxia caused by reduced blood flow. Further, the tumors in the treated mice had 52 percent lower blood vessel area and 54 percent fewer vessel sprouts than the untreated mice.

They also determined that Prohep treatment down-regulated IL-17, a pro-inflammatory angiogenic factor. Because HCC is a highly vascularized tumor, the cancer is generally associated with high levels of IL-17 and an immune T-cell called T helper 17 (Th17), which is transported from the gut to HCC tumors via circulation. The researchers believe that reduced Th17 in tumor cells impedes the inflammation and angiogenesis and limits tumor growth. It's not surprising that they also found that probiotics increased the anti-inflammatory bacteria and metabolites present in the guts of treated mice. They conclude that Prohep intake has the capability of inhibiting tumor progression by modulating the gut microbiota.

Much discussion about the link between gut bacteria and liver cancer, as well as the link between inflammation and cancer. Gut microbiome imbalances can cause health harms.

Bottom line: Try to improve your gut microbiome by eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes, and whole grains.

From the Dec.4, 2014 issue of Nature: Microbiome: The bacterial tightrope

Imbalances in gut bacteria have been implicated in the progression from liver disease to cancer. The team's research, published last year, suggests that gut bacteria — which are part of the microbiome of bacteria and other microorganisms that live in and on the body — can play a crucial part in liver-cancer progression.

There are trillions of microorganisms in the human microbiome — they outnumber their host's cells by around ten to one — and their exact role in health and disease is only now starting to be explored. Studies have found that people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease have a different composition of bacteria in their gut from healthy individuals2, 3

 Instead, she sees an emerging picture of liver disease and cancer as a process in which various factors — including a high-fat diet, alcoholism, genetic susceptibility and the microbiome — can each contribute to the progression from minor to severe liver damage, and from severe liver damage to cancer.

Flavell's research suggests that the liver has an important role in immune surveillance and helps to maintain bacterial balance in the gut. Specialized cells in the liver and intestines monitor the microbiome by keeping tabs on bacterial by-products as they pass through. These cells can detect infections and help to fight them.

But they can also pick up on subtler changes in the bacterial populations in the gut. When certain types of bacteria become too numerous — a state called dysbiosis — the immune system becomes activated and triggers inflammation, although at a lower level than it would for an infection... Now, research is emerging that suggests that dysbiosis and the immune reaction it provokes can even contribute to cancer.

He thinks that at least part of this mechanism involves disruption in the balance of the various species of bacteria in the gut. An out-of-balance microbiome promotes a constant state of inflammation, which can contribute to cancer progression, Schwabe says. This aligns with the picture that is emerging of cancer, in general, as an inflammatory process: the same immune reactions that help the body to fight infection and disease can also promote unchecked cell growth.

Some of the earliest research on the human microbiome, published in 2006, demonstrated that the balance of gut bacteria in obese people is different from that in people of healthy weight. In particular, obese people tend to have greater numbers of the bacteria that produce DCA (deoxycholic acid) and other secondary bile acids.

This line of research points to the microbiome as one potential link between obesity and liver-cancer risk . And, much like Schwabe's work, Hara's results indicate that several factors converge to promote cancer: in this case, bacteria, diet and carcinogen exposure. Here, too, the ability to stave off the disease seems to depend on maintaining the appropriate microbial balance. Overweight mice and people have a different composition of gut microbiota from their lighter counterparts, and they have higher levels of DCA, too.

However, not everyone is convinced that individual bacterial species are to blame. Some researchers point out that dysbiosis, and therefore cancer risk, involves multiple strains of bacteria. And the bacterial mix can vary from person to person, meaning it is unlikely that scientists can pin all responsibility on a single species.

Others are looking for ways to promote the growth of healthy bacterial strains rather than target the bad ones....There is also some early clinical evidence that specially formulated probiotics — cocktails of good bacteria — can bump the microbiome back into balance. Hylemon and his colleagues gave people with cirrhosis a probiotic containing Lactobacillus bacteria and found that their blood markers of inflammation decreased along with their cognitive dysfunction (a common symptom of cirrhosis)6. Although the study was not designed to evaluate cancer risk, it does show that delivering bacteria to the gut can have positive therapeutic effects on the liver.

Read the labels on personal care products, and do NOT buy those with triclosan! (See earlier posts for other reasons to avoid triclosan.) From Science Daily:

The 'dirty' side of soap: Triclosan, a common antimicrobial in personal hygiene products, causes liver fibrosis and cancer in mice

Triclosan is an antimicrobial commonly found in soaps, shampoos, toothpastes and many other household items. Despite its widespread use, researchers report potentially serious consequences of long-term exposure to the chemical.The study, published Nov. 17 by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that triclosan causes liver fibrosis and cancer in laboratory mice through molecular mechanisms that are also relevant in humans.

"Triclosan's increasing detection in environmental samples and its increasingly broad use in consumer products may overcome its moderate benefit and present a very real risk of liver toxicity for people, as it does in mice, particularly when combined with other compounds with similar action," said Robert H. Tukey, PhD, professor in the departments of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Pharmacology. 

Tukey, Hammock and their teams, including Mei-Fei Yueh, PhD, found that triclosan disrupted liver integrity and compromised liver function in mouse models. Mice exposed to triclosan for six months (roughly equivalent to 18 human years) were more susceptible to chemical-induced liver tumors. Their tumors were also larger and more frequent than in mice not exposed to triclosan.

The study suggests triclosan may do its damage by interfering with the constitutive androstane receptor, a protein responsible for detoxifying (clearing away) foreign chemicals in the body. To compensate for this stress, liver cells proliferate and turn fibrotic over time. Repeated triclosan exposure and continued liver fibrosis eventually promote tumor formation.

Triclosan is perhaps the most ubiquitous consumer antibacterial. Studies have found traces in 97 percent of breast milk samples from lactating women and in the urine of nearly 75 percent of people tested. Triclosan is also common in the environment: It is one of the seven most frequently detected compounds in streams across the United States.

More about this study plus a discussion about the FDA's lack of action. From The Atlantic:

The Ingredient to Avoid in Soap