Can a special diet really starve cancer?

Cutting out certain nutrients may slow tumor growth.

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So it’s not terribly surprising that what you eat affects your cancer risk, too. In fact, there’s been a longstanding debate about whether your diet can feed or starve cancerous cell growth.

Now, a new study adds support to the latter: Cutting out certain amino acids may slow the development of tumors, according to a new study in Nature.

In the study, researchers removed serine and glycine—two non-essential amino acids, or the building blocks of protein—from the diets of mice with lymphoma and intestinal cancers. When they did so, they discovered it slowed the growth of the cancers, and boosted their survival.

What’s more, removing those amino acids made some of the cancer cells more susceptible to reactive oxygen species, which are specific chemicals in cells that are boosted by chemotherapy and radiation. That shows that cutting serine and glycine may make those cancer treatments for effective, too.

While these results are promising, it’s important to note that the effects were only seen in mice—human trials are warranted to see if the same link applies.

One more important caveat: Don’t take this as license to cut protein from your diet in hopes of mimicking the results, the researchers warn, as the nutrient is vital for your health. If further human trials confirm its results, a specialized, restricted diet—which will be created and monitored closely by doctors—would likely be a short-term measure.

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