Diets high in processed fiber may increase liver cancer risk
- Liver cancer can be deadly, but experts are still working to understand how to best detect and prevent liver cancer.
- Data from a recent study suggests that a diet high in processed fiber may increase the risk of liver cancer in some people.
- Testing bile acid levels could help identify people at risk of developing liver cancer who may need a lower intake of fermentable fiber.
Sometimes it can be difficult to follow dietary recommendations despite new diet ideas and trends.
Everyone’s dietary needs are different, which means that diets often need to be varied and adapted based on individual needs and health risks.
A recent study published in Gastroenterology examined diets high in fermentable fiber in mice and their associated risk of developing liver cancer.
The researchers found that the risk of developing liver cancer in mice with a specific birth defect was substantial when they ate a diet enriched with fermentable fiber. The blood of these mice also had a high content of bile acids.
Based on this and other data from people, the researchers suggest that screening bile acid levels may help predict liver cancer risk. People with high levels of bile acids may need to be cautious about the amount of fiber-fortified processed foods they consume.
Fiber is a carbohydrate that provides some health benefits to the body, but does not provide many calories.
Fiber is naturally present in many foods, including many fruits and vegetables. There are different types of fiber, all of which provide specific health benefits.
Fermentable fiber refers to the types of fiber that gut bacteria can ferment and break down. In some cases, food manufacturers will add fermentable fiber to processed foods.
Brian PowerRD, a nutrition expert and dietitian, not involved in the study, explained to Medical News Today:
“Food processing techniques can make fiber fermentable, which means it can be broken down by gut bacteria and produce many healthful byproducts.”
However, people in specific subgroups may need to exercise caution when it comes to diets high in fermentable fiber.
“Liver cancer is increasingly serious in the United States and is expected to be the third deadliest cancer this decade,” Dr. Yiing LinPh.D., a liver surgeon at Washington University’s Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis who was not involved in the study, said DTM.
For the study, the authors researched how a few different components may be linked to liver cancer risk.
The researchers looked at mice that had a specific birth defect called
When mice at risk ate diets enriched with fermentable fiber, their risk of developing liver cancer increased. The researchers speculated that this could be because the fermentable fiber diet contributed to a weakened immune system.
Additionally, the mice had high levels of
Although it is difficult to study portosystemic shunts in humans in depth, researchers have been able to examine bile acid levels. They looked at bile acid levels in men who developed liver cancer and matched those participants with controls who did not develop liver cancer.
They found that bile acid levels were about double in men who developed liver cancer later in life. This indicates that screening for this could be useful in predicting liver cancer.
Next, the researchers looked at overall fiber intake and the associated liver cancer risk in humans. In men with high bile acid levels, high fiber intake was associated with an increased risk of developing liver cancer.
Overall, the study notes a potential screening method for liver cancer and the potentially conservative use of fermentable fiber in certain risk groups. Dr. Lin noted the following:
“The results are that in congenital portosystemic shunts in mice, diets high in fermented fiber increase the risk of developing liver cancer. In humans, congenital portosystemic shunts are not common, but shunts develop in patients with cirrhosis. The study results could help patients with liver disease and reduce their risk of developing liver cancer by changing their diet or other interventions.
The study had several limitations, and more research is needed before experts can truly understand how diets high in processed fiber influence liver cancer risk. First, the initial data comes from mouse studies, which can only provide so much information.
Power noted the following:
“The more we understand the biochemistry involved in the breakdown of dietary fiber and its impact on health, such as liver cancer, the closer we are to developing effective new treatments. In the current study, the work pinpoints the molecular basis of the link between fiber and liver cancer risk. But we must be careful in the interpretation. Especially when trying to apply mouse evidence to humans.
Data from people came only from men, indicating that more diverse tracking is needed.
The researchers could not distinguish between fiber types in their data from human subjects. This means that more research is needed to understand if it is actually fermentable fiber that contributes to liver cancer risk.
The researchers also note that more research is needed on the prevalence of congenital liver shunts and their impact on liver disease and liver cancer.
Dr. Lin noted the following research areas:
“The effects of a modified diet in humans with liver disease will need to be confirmed. These are difficult studies because liver cancer develops in subgroups of people with liver disease, and the effects of dietary changes must be monitored over long periods of time and can be difficult to monitor.However, these are important issues to address since metabolic syndrome and its association with liver cancer are significant problems in the United States. United “