Linking our diets to changes in hormones and cancer

By Monica Favre, Frontiers science writer

We’ve heard the phrase, “you are what you eat,” but recent research shows that what we are eating, how much we are eating and how we are living our lives could result in a cancer epidemic.

“Our society is moving away from foods that our body has evolved to process, particularly in the western world. The problems come from simple energy balance, really,” said Professor Jeff Holly. “This is the first time in human evolution that we are eating caloric foods at higher frequency along with such sedentary life styles.”

A professor of Clinical Sciences at the University of Bristol in the UK and the Field Chief Editor of Frontiers in Endocrinology, Holly’s work points to how nutrition is altering the signaling happening within the body. Based on his research and others in the field, the changes are occurring in the hormone molecules and their receptors, which work together to regulate the growth of cells. This could result in breast, prostate, colorectal and other cancers.

“Our hormones are changing in relation to our lifestyles and diet.  If you are getting the wrong nutrition, one that is triggering the hormone system to tell cells to grow, you can push your cells into overgrowth and clinical cancers,” Holly explained. He notes that cancer will become an increasingly greater clinical problem, as nutrition problems will add onto the natural accumulation of cell damage that occurs with age.

While specific molecules are changing in response to our diets and lifestyle, treating one at a time isn’t the solution. Holly points out that the body’s systems act as one community, where hormone system changes affect way cells function in the entire body.

“We are just beginning to piece the letters together; we still do not fully construct the words,” he said, when explaining further research is needed to connect how all signaling molecules work together to trigger disease.

He says for example, the words ‘stop’ and ‘go’ both contain the letter ‘O’, but while you understand the letter O’s role in these words, it can create words with different meaning when combined with other letters.  “This is how the body works. Studying just the letter ‘O’ cannot give us a full understanding of its role in communication.”

However he’s hopeful the answers will be found. New technology, he believes, will be the key to help scientists integrate all this information. “The ultimate solution is educating people to live how we are designed to live, based on evolution of mammals.”


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