Plant-Based Fat Inhibits Cancer-Cell Growth By Enhancing Cells Signaling System, UB Researchers Show

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Nutrition researchers at the University at Buffalo have provided the first evidence that a minor plant-based fat called B-sitosterol appears to play a role in inhibiting the growth of human prostate-cancer cells.

They found that the phytosterol B-sitosterol, a fat abundant in vegetarian diets, enhances an intracellular signaling system that tells cells not to divide. The study showed a 28 percent inhibition of prostate-cancer cell growth after being exposed to B-sitosterol for five days in vitro.

Atif Awad, Ph.D., head of UB's Nutrition Program, will present the results on Oct. 25 at the Sixth International Conference of Anti-Cancer Research in Kallithea, Greece.

"This phytosterol replaces some of the cell membrane's cholesterol, which changes the membrane lipid composition in such a way that signal transduction (secondary messenger activity) is stimulated, and that activation inhibits cell growth," Awad explained.

"If cell proliferation can be stopped before it becomes uncontrolled, cancer can be contained. When we treated prostate-cancer cells with phytosterols, cell proliferation was inhibited. We have found the same effect in vitro with breast and colon-cancer cells."

This activity may help to explain why vegetable fats, such as olive oil, in the diet reduce the risk of developing certain cancers, Awad said.

The work of Awad and colleagues is grounded in epidemiologic studies showing that prostate cancer is less common in Asian countries where diets are primarily vegetarian, and that rates increase when these people migrate to western societies where rates are higher and diets are primarily animal-based.

Working with sterols, a group of minor lipids, Awad and colleagues set out to examine the action of the main plant sterol -- B-sitosterol -- and the main animal sterol -- cholesterol -- on prostate-cancer cell growth.

In previous work, they ident

Contact: Lois Baker
University at Buffalo

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