Amino acids are essentially protein ‘building blocks’. Proteins are a critical component of all living cells, making up the largest proportion of our body after water. Proteins are essential for the growth and repair of cells, tissues and bones. The hormones and enzymes that regulate our body are proteins. Proteins also form the structural basis of our chromosomes. Without amino acids, our body fails to function because proteins can’t be synthesised.
Our body requires 21 different amino acids to properly function. Some of these amino acids are produced within the body (non-essential amino acids), while others must be obtained exclusively through our diet (essential amino acids). In some instances, the body also needs to source non-essential amino acids from food to ensure adequate levels.
Unlike starch and fat, our body doesn’t store excess amino acids to use later. This means that we need to obtain sufficient concentrations of essential amino acids in our daily diet, otherwise the body’s proteins will degrade.
Given that cell growth is regulated by proteins, mutated cancer cells are also influenced by certain proteins and their associated amino acids. Understanding the link between amino acids, proteins and cancer is critical in order to treat and prevent these devastating diseases.
Given the critical role amino acids play within our body, it’s not surprising that cancer researchers have been investigating treatments using these protein building blocks. In 1978, cancer scientist, Angelo P. John, founded the A.P John Institute for Cancer Research2. For the past two decades, research at the institute has focused on amino acids within cancer cells and how their roles vary from normal, healthy cells. The results have lead to the development of a therapy known as Controlled Amino Acid Therapy (CAAT).
CAAT uses amino acids to impair cancer cells by interfering in five specific elements of cell formation: energy, structure, function, growth hormones and blood vessels. CAAT reduces the ability of cancer cells to produce energy and grow by blocking glycolysis and limiting growth hormones. Through disrupting the production of certain amino acids, the DNA replication in cancer cells is impaired and new blood vessels are unable to form. Essentially, CAAT stops the progression of cancer and helps to kill cancer cells.
The CAAT cancer treatment is based on scientifically formulated amino acids. The A.P John Institute for Cancer Research recognised that the needs of cancer cells are very different from healthy cells. By manipulating a cancer patient’s diet and supplying a personally tailored blend of amino acids, it’s possible to starve cancer cells to death.
The CAAT diet is strict and limited in both protein and carbohydrates. A low calorie and low protein diet can reduce the production of insulin growth factor 1 (IGF1) and human growth hormone (GH), both of which are known to stimulate cancer growth.
The specific blend of amino acids prescribed to a patient depends on the type of cancer being treated. However, in all cases, the amino acid blend is designed to limit certain amino acids (such as valine, glycine, isoleucine and leucine) and elevate others.
The blended amino acids have a number of negative influences on cancer cells. They cause a reduction in the production of elastin, a protein required for new blood vessel formation. They also work to limit glycoysis. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells gain their energy from glycoysis, rather than oxygen. By reducing glycoysis, the cancer cells struggle to function due to a lack of energy. Limiting amino acids such as glycine can reduce cancer cell division 3, slowing the spread of the disease.
There are also a variety of nutritional supplements recommended, such as vitamins D, C and A; N-Acetylcysteine (NAC); D-Limonene; Lycopene; Grape Seed Extract; amongst others. The B vitamins, B6 in particular, should be avoided because they promote DNA replication and glycolysis.
In addition to individually formulated amino acid nutrient supplements, patients adhere to a strict diet. The key to fighting cancer through diet is to avoid sugary foods, reduce red meat and increase vegetable and fruit intake. Eating plenty of fresh vegetables is very important because are they are low in carbohydrates and protein, while rich in phytochemicals for fighting cancer. Olives are also recommended. They are rich in oleic acid and squalene, nutrients believed to suppress cancer growth 4. Eating oranges and other citrus fruits can help because citric acid reduces glycolosis 5.
Since 1994, the CAAT treatment program has been combined with conventional treatments or used independently with positive results.
Not only can amino acids aid in the treatment of cancer patients, they can also help to prevent cancer.
Cysteine (C) is one particularly powerful amino acid recognised in the fight against cancer. This amino acid is a precursor of glutathione. Glutathione is a critical detoxifying agent and powerful antioxidant. Research has shown that C can significantly reduce the risk of women developing breast cancer by elevating glutathione levels 6. The benefits of C for cancer prevention don’t appear to be gender specific. Additional research also supports the theory that C may help lower the incidence of prostate cancer in men.7
Whey protein is an excellent source of C. However, it’s important to avoid highly processed products and consume high quality, non-denatured whey protein that is C-rich. Cysteine is also found in a range of other foods such as yogurt, poultry, onions, garlic, brussel sprouts, broccoli and egg yolks.
It’s highly likely that other amino acids will prove to be important cancer inhibitors as research continues and more clinical trials are conducted.
As with most modern disease, our diet is a critical factor in both treatment and prevention. The proliferation of diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes (amongst others) are often a reflection of lifestyles and associated poor diets. By altering the foods we eat and leading an active daily routine, it’s possible to avoid many of these life threatening conditions.
While scientists work tirelessly to develop cures for the vast number of cancers, people can help themselves by improving their well-being. A diet rich in organic, fresh fruit and vegetables is essential. Limiting our consumption of red meat and eating more fish is also important. These foods help to keep our amino acid intake balanced and provide the necessary vitamins and minerals for the body to function properly. There is also a wide range of health supplements available that can help support our immune systems and safeguard against diseases such as cancer.