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Can restoring gut health through diet, reduce cancer risk, prevent tumour? Know gut microbiome potential in cancer care

ByZarafshan Shiraz, New Delhi
Mar 04, 2024 08:42 AM IST

Unlocking cancer prevention: Read on to explore the gut microbiome's role in reduction of cancer risk and prevention of tumorigenesis

As per the World Health Organization (WHO), around 30–50% of all cancer cases are preventable and it is time we talk about this disease, especially the aspects that can help alleviate one’s risk of cancer because although there is widespread recognition of primary cancer risk factors such as tobacco use, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and dietary habits, one often underestimated aspect relates to gut health, more specifically the gut microbiota. While conventional treatments remain vital, emerging research points to the crucial role of the gut microbiome—our body's microbial ecosystem—in cancer therapy and prevention.

Can restoring gut health through diet, reduce cancer risk, prevent tumour? Know gut microbiome potential in cancer care (Photo by WomenH)
Can restoring gut health through diet, reduce cancer risk, prevent tumour? Know gut microbiome potential in cancer care (Photo by WomenH)

Understanding the Gut Microbiome

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Debojyoti Dhar, Co-Founder and Director at Leucine Rich Bio, explained, “The gut microbiota, comprising trillions of microbes, orchestrates critical functions in our bodies, including digestion, metabolism, and immune regulation. Many studies suggest its profound influence on cancer development and treatment response. Through a delicate balance of beneficial and harmful microbes, the gut microbiome maintains homeostasis and contributes to overall health. Disruptions in this balance, known as dysbiosis, have been linked to various diseases, including cancer. Understanding the intricate interactions within the gut microbiome provides valuable insights into cancer biology and therapeutic strategies.”

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Promising Preventive Measures

Dr Debojyoti Dhar revealed, “Research indicates that about 20% of the global cancer burden is due to pathogenic bacteria and viruses. By restoring gut health through dietary interventions, probiotics, or fecal microbiota transplantation, we can potentially reduce cancer risk and prevent tumorigenesis. Diet plays a crucial role in shaping the composition of the gut microbiome, with certain foods promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria.”

He elaborated, “Fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, fermented foods and prebiotics nourish beneficial microbes while minimising the consumption of processed foods and antibiotics helps maintain microbial diversity. Probiotics, consisting of live beneficial bacteria, can also restore microbial balance and support overall gut health. Furthermore, fecal microbiota transplantation, a procedure where fecal matter containing healthy microbes is transferred to a patient's gut, has shown promise in treating certain gastrointestinal conditions and may have implications for cancer prevention.”

Enhancing Treatment Efficacy

Dr Debojyoti Dhar highlighted, “Certain gut bacteria such as Bifidobacterium have shown the ability to augment the effectiveness of cancer treatments, such as immunotherapy and chemotherapy. By modulating the immune system and metabolizing drugs, these microbes can potentially enhance treatment outcomes while mitigating side effects. For example, research has revealed that specific bacterial strains can activate immune cells to target and destroy cancer cells more effectively. Harnessing these interactions may lead to personalized treatment approaches that optimize therapeutic benefits while minimizing adverse effects.”

Gut Microbiome Profiling

Dr Debojyoti Dhar said, “A convenient method for anyone to gain insight into their gut microbiota involves undergoing gut microbiome profiling, which provides a comprehensive understanding of their microbial composition and like one’s DNA, no two people share the same composition of gut microbiota. With test kits like BugSpeaks, users can gain a deeper understanding of their gut microbiota through their stool samples. In addition, personalized nutritional recommendations are provided to the user based on their unique gut microbiota and the presence or absence of relevant microorganisms.”

Challenges and Considerations

While the potential of the gut microbiome in cancer care is promising, Dr Debojyoti Dhar pointed out that significant challenges exist. He said, “Interdisciplinary collaboration, robust clinical studies, and stringent regulation are essential to ensure the safety, efficacy, and ethical implementation of microbiome-based therapies. The complex interactions within the gut microbiome pose challenges in deciphering its role in cancer development and treatment response. In addition, ensuring equitable access to microbiome-based interventions and addressing concerns regarding safety and long-term effects are critical considerations in advancing this field.”

The expert concluded, “The exploration of the gut microbiome's potential in cancer care presents a paradigm shift in our approach to prevention and treatment. As we observe National Cancer Prevention Month this February, it is imperative to recognize the substantial impact of gut health on cancer risk and progression. By elucidating the intricate dynamics of the gut microbiome and its influence on cancer biology, we uncover promising avenues for preventive measures and therapeutic interventions. From dietary modifications to innovative treatments like fecal microbiota transplantation, the potential for leveraging the gut microbiome in cancer care is vast.”

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