Anti-cancer supplements need plant-based proteins to be effective

Plant protein helps against cancerAccording to the UN next month the world’s 7 billionth human inhabitant will be born. We have a feeling it’s gonna be a girl and we hope her metabolism will show some similarity to that of a lab rat.

If so and if she chooses to consume plant proteins rather than animal proteins that would of course be nice for the climate and the forests – but it may also help her onto a long and healthy life. Because somehow dietary plant proteins seem to work synergistically with anti-oxidants from supplements [so also with your daily apple, onion and cup of tea we presume].

In the 1980s manufacturers developed new types of feed for lab animals that were intended to improve the quality of research. These new feeds no longer contained substances of plant origin. And suddenly the findings from animal studies that had used the new feed showed that all kinds of substances that offer protection against cancer were no longer effective.

Do you use supplements against cancer?

In 2004 researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham published the results of a series of experiments [in the Journal of Nutrition] which made it clear just how strong the effect of feed was. Although the researchers addressed their conclusions to fellow animal researchers, their findings are relevant to everyone who uses supplements for protection against cancer.

In their experiments the researchers used 4%-Teklad feed [which contains proteins obtained from various sources including wheat, soy and barley] and AIN-76A feed [which contains only casein-based proteins].

So AIN-76A feed contains none of the plant-based proteins, which, since the 1980s, we know have an effect on the body.

The researchers tested two preparations that contained protective compounds. One was pure genistein, a soy isoflavone. The other was grape seed extract, a preparation from grapes that contains catechins. The researchers gave the preparations to female rats that had been injected with substances that cause breast cancer, and then observed whether the preparations inhibited tumour growth.

More isoflavones and more catechins are better

In the figures below the white triangles represent the rats that got no genistein in their feed; the white diamonds represent the rats that got feed with 0.8 percent genistein; and the black squares represent the rats that got food containing 1.6 percent genistein. The carcinogenic substance was MNU. The figure immediately below shows the results for the AIN-76A group; the one under that shows the results for the Teklad group.

Plant protein helps against cancer

Plant protein helps against cancer

In the rats that were given AIN-76A feed, the genistein offered them no protection. The rats that got Teklad feed containing 0.8 percent genistein had 44 percent fewer tumours. The rats that got Teklad feed with 1.6 percent genistein had 61 percent fewer tumours.

The figures below show the results of a different experiment. The black triangles represent rats that had no grape seed extract in their food; the white circles rats that got feed with 1.25 percent grape seed extract; and the black squares rats that got feed with 5 percent grape seed extract. In this experiment the carcinogenic substance used was DMBA. The figure immediately below shows the results for the AIN-76A group; the one under that shows the results for the Teklad group.

Plant protein helps against cancer

Plant protein helps against cancer

Once again, the grape seed extract had no effect in the rats that were given AIN-76A feed, but it did have an effect in the animals that were given Teklad feed. Teklad feed containing 1.25 percent grape seed extract gave no protection, but feed with 5 percent reduced the number of tumours by 44 percent.

Unhindered by great scientific wisdom, we have drawn our own conclusions from this study. Supplements that contain anti-carcinogenic plant extracts only work if you already consume these substances in the ordinary food that you eat. And apparently the way to ensure that this happens is by making sure that at least part of your protein consumption comes from plant proteins.

It is not the first time relatively high consumption of plant proteins is linked to improved health. Apparently plant protein is better on the kidneys than for instance diary protein and people who eat more beans tend to live longer lifes, a multi-year population study showed.

© Willem Koert |

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