This article is 8 months old
Reaction: Beef and dairy products have nutrients that enhance the immune response to cancer

A fatty acid present in the meat and dairy products of grazing animals, such as cows and sheep – trans-vaccenic acid (TVA) – enhances the ability of CD8+ T cells to infiltrate tumors and eliminate cancer cells, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Chicago (USA), published today in the journal Nature.

22/11/2023 - 17:00 CET
Expert reactions

Nabil - carne protectora

Nabil Djouder

Head of the Growth Factors, Nutrients and Cancer Group of the National Cancer Research Center (CNIO)

Science Media Centre Spain

This study sheds light on the role of specific nutrients in the diet in modulating immune responses and highlights the impact of trans-vaccenic acid (TVA) as a potential therapeutic pathway for cancer, particularly its influence on immune cell function and cancer immunity.

TVA is a natural chemical compound belonging to the group of unsaturated fatty acids. It is found in the fats of ruminants, fish oil, blood plasma, and microorganisms such as Lactobacillus species, which are important probiotic bacteria in yogurt production and milk fermentation.

The significance of this study is noteworthy globally, given its careful execution, a clarified mechanism of action with the identification of the TVA-modulated receptor in immune cells, and tests conducted in both mice and patient samples. These aspects convincingly suggest its potential translational application in cancer treatment.

The research underscores the importance of individual nutrients in establishing connections between diet and human physiology and pathology. Various studies, including those conducted by my group, have demonstrated the crucial role of diets and vitamins, such as vitamin B3, in cancer prevention and other diseases.

This study reveals that TVA, naturally present in the fat of ruminant meat (cattle, sheep, and lamb), fish oil, and fermented yogurt or milk, reprograms immune cells to be more efficient against cancer. This happens because TVA antagonizes a receptor generally activated by long-chain fatty acids, such as butyrate, synthesized by the microbiome from fiber-rich diets. Although epidemiological studies associate circulating TVA with lower adiposity and a reduced risk of diabetes, its effect in enhancing the immune system against cancer is significant.

This again suggests the importance of meat, and a fiber-rich diet may be detrimental to the activation of the immune system against cancer. It is important to note that long-chain fatty acids synthesized by the microbiome, such as butyrate, have been implicated in liver cancer. Additionally, we have shown that a protein-rich diet can protect against inflammation and the development of colon cancer in mice.

This does not mean that meat is a protective factor against cancer. Meat is composed of proteins and amino acids, but it also contains fat and blood, which, in turn, contain high levels of iron and nitrites.

Epidemiological studies show a significant association and risk in humans between the consumption of red or processed meat and the development of cancer, especially colorectal cancer. The World Health Organization has classified processed meat as carcinogenic. We do not know the exact reason, but it may be associated with viruses present in meat, certain chemicals, or high levels of salt in processed meat that can be carcinogenic. Another suggested mechanism is mutagenesis through alkylating damage, which can lead to oncogenic mutations induced by N-nitroso compounds, which are metabolic products of heme iron in blood or nitrites in meat.

It is always important to consider a balanced diet, avoiding emphasizing specific foods. A balanced diet generally includes a variety of foods from different food groups to ensure adequate intake of essential nutrients. Emphasizing diversity and moderation in food choices contributes to maintaining health and preventing potential nutritional imbalances.

TVA, as a natural component of food, clearly has translational potential in various cancer therapies. In addition to being used as a supplement, the isolation of the receptor indicates that we could modulate more specific and potent synthetic compounds than TVA.

This advancement opens the door to the development of more focused and effective treatments compared to the direct use of TVA. The ability to design specific synthetic compounds could lead to more efficient and tailored therapies for individual patient needs, marking a significant step toward precision nutrition in the oncological field. This promising approach could revolutionize how we approach and treat cancer, enabling more advanced and efficient therapeutic strategies.

The author has not responded to our request to declare conflicts of interest
Trans-vaccenic acid reprograms CD8+ T cells and anti-tumor immunity
  • Research article
  • Peer reviewed
Publication date
Study types:
  • Research article
  • Peer reviewed
The 5Ws +1
Publish it