Fighting Melanoma With Probiotics
Despite all of the attention we pay to other deadly forms of cancer — breast, colon, lung and prostate — melanoma should be near the top of that list too.
Melanoma makes up just 1 percent of all skin cancers, yet it is responsible for the vast majority of skin cancer deaths. What’s more, just like colon cancer, the incidence of melanoma has jumped dramatically and become more common among young people.
In recent years, we’ve learned how the state of a patient’s gut health plays a critical role in a growing number of cancers, sometimes due to the harmful use of antibiotics.
Lately, we’ve also seen how the beneficial mix of bacteria and prebiotics contained in probiotics can do a lot of good, including these latest findings from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) on the use of probiotics combined with diet to boost the effectiveness of immunotherapy.
From Gut To Tumor
UPMC scientists knew that the gut was a critical factor in cancer immunotherapy (helping the body’s immune system find and eliminate cancer cells) for some patients, but not all. Yet some recent studies have found that melanoma patients benefitted from probiotic use during the immunotherapy phase of their treatments.
A research team led by senior author Dr. Marlies Meisel took a very important next step by figuring out how the beneficial bacteria in probiotics get the job done by stimulating immune cells directly in tumors with the help of diet in a study appearing in the medical journal Cell.
When Dr. Meisel and her team fed Lactobacillus reuteri to germ-free mice with melanoma, they were able to track to movement of that beneficial bacteria from the gut straight to the tumors.
Compared to a control group that never received beneficial bacteria, the tiny bodies of mice that were dosed with probiotics stimulated more potent T cells at the site of tumors by secreting a compound (I3A).
Also, when scientists supplemented the diets of probiotic mice with tryptophan (an amino acid common in chicken, oatmeal and nuts), that beneficial bacteria converted it to I3A, further strengthening the effect of immunotherapy on slowing down tumor growth and keeping those animals alive longer.
The benefits of probiotics weren’t limited to melanoma either. Probiotics moved beyond the gut to suppress the growth of other cancers including breast cancer in other mouse models.
“I think it’s empowering for patients that they could make these changes themselves — after careful clinical consideration — and have some control over their treatment journey,” says Dr. Meisel.
Safer Approaches For Treating Cancer
Fortunately, this isn’t the first documented case of tiny gut microbes making a difference in the treatment of melanoma.
In a similar study involving mice, prebiotics worked in very similar ways to stimulate the growth of immune cells, slow the growth of melanoma and help the gut to develop more anti-tumor immunity.
This recent report adds to the legacy of probiotics as a safe, non-drug approach to fortify the human gut, the center of one’s immune system.
Want to give your immune system a much-needed boost by taking probiotics?
Consider EndoMune Advanced Probiotics, formulated with 10 vital strains of beneficial bacteria from the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium families — at least 30 billion bacterial allies and a probiotic (FOS) that feeds your gut.
Breast Cancer and Your Unbalanced Gut Health
The list of serious health problems associated with an unbalanced gut is growing as researchers discover more links between gut dysbiosis and various forms of cancer.
Some of the more interesting and disturbing findings have come recently from a research team at the University of Virginia’s Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cancer Biology unit studying the connections between the gut microbiome and breast cancer.
So, why does breast cancer spread in some patients but not all of them?
A new study from Virginia researchers has answered that simple question, concluding alterations in a patient’s gut health influence changes in healthy breast tissue that makes it easier for breast cancer to spread to other parts of the body.
Scientists led by Dr. Melanie Rutkowski found an unhealthy gut reprograms mast cells (immune cells in healthy breast tissue) accumulating in the breast that eventually allows cancer to spread to other organs, according to a study appearing in Cancer Immunology Research.
Based on work with human patients and mice, an unbalanced gut alters breast tissue even before the presence of a tumor, setting the table for a tumor to have the resources it needs to spread cancer cells throughout the body, says Dr. Rutkowski.
Additionally, researchers could calculate the risk for a recurrence in breast cancer merely based on the number of mast cells and collagen, opening the door to develop treatment strategies targeted at prevention.
The need for life-saving alternatives is real. Just 29 percent of women and 22 percent of men survive five years after a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis.
Until those alternatives come, the best cancer-fighting steps you can take to protect your gut and your health are easy ones.
- Eat a diet rich in nutrient-dense whole foods and dietary fiber and ditch your Western diet ways.
- Incorporate more movement in your life with some consistent exercise. Even walking helps!
- Stay on a consistent sleep schedule.
- Avoid antibiotics except when you really need them.
- Take a daily probiotic with multiple strains of beneficial bacteria, like EndoMune Advanced Probiotic.
Need some help figuring out how to get the most out of a probiotic? Check out our updated guide on the basics of taking a multi-strain probiotic, and learn why the prebiotics contained in probiotics matter, especially when fighting cancer.
How Men Can Avoid the Colon Cancer “Diet”
There’s no doubt in the world that one of the easiest things you can do to protect your health and avoid serious disease — eating a nutrient-dense diet packed with lots of unprocessed whole foods, fiber and natural sugars — is one of the best things too.
Unfortunately, we see the old adage, You are what you eat!, play out every day in rising mortality rates on a global scale due to poor diets than smoking and car accidents.
A recent study appearing in The BMJ underscores the risk of poor diets, concluding that men raise their risk of developing colon cancer by 29 percent just by eating highly processed foods.
Rising Rates of Colon Cancer
You’ve probably read similar reports we have about the rising rates of colon cancer, leading scientists to predict it will become the leading cause of death for patients under age 50 by the end of this decade.
Researchers at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy already had assumed diet was a major contributor in a colon cancer diagnosis, but who was more vulnerable and why.
Scientists reviewed data from more than 205,000 patients across three large studies that tracked dietary intake along with how often people consumed a list of some 130 foods for more than 25 years.
During that time, men were far more susceptible to colon cancer than women, largely due to eating diets full of highly processed meats, poultry, pork and fish, ready-to-eat meals and sugar-sweetened drinks.
These results led researchers to consider the possibility that other factors could be responsible for rising colon cancer risks among men, like the role food additives play in harming the balance of bacteria in the gut and promoting inflammation.
Reduce Your Colon Cancer Risks
Eating a healthier, fiber-rich diet made up of fewer highly processed meats along with incorporating some movement into your daily routine will go a long way toward reducing your colon cancer risks. However, we recommend adding a couple of things to your to-do list.
For one, get screened for colon cancer as soon as you’re able. Although the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommended lowering the age for a first screening to age 45 last year, if you have a family history of colon cancer take the initiative and do it sooner.
Also, given what we already know about the health-harming use of antibiotics and their effect on raising your colon cancer risks, we recommend taking a daily probiotic with multiple strains of beneficial bacteria and a proven prebiotic (that feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut).
You can get the protection you need with the proprietary blend of 10 proven strains of beneficial bacteria from the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium families and the prebiotic FOS contained in each serving of EndoMune Advanced Probiotic.
Based on a recent announcement from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, you may be worried about an alarming rise in colon cancer, especially if you’re under age 50. The Task Force, along with the American Cancer Society, now advises colon cancer screenings starting at age 45.
Their advisory comes at a critical time, given colon cancer tops the list the deadliest form of cancer among men and is third among women in the 20-49 age range, not to mention the third deadliest cancer among all Americans overall.
This growing problem became a national concern with the recent death of actor and Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman at age 43, after being diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer in 2016.
Recognize the Colon Cancer Risks
An array of factors contributes to an increased risk of colon cancer, from inherited syndromes and a history of noncancerous colon polyps to family history and race. (African-Americans are at a greater risk than other races.)
However, other very prevalent factors — a poor diet, a lack of exercise and exposure to harmful chemicals — add to your risk profile for colon cancer (and other diseases) but are well within your control.
The shared link among these very common problems is how these factors work to disrupt the healthy balance of bacteria in your gut.
Of course, eating a fiber-rich diet (and cutting back on red meat), spending a few minutes every day exercising (it can be as easy as a short walk around the block) and paying closer attention to the chemicals that surround you help to lower your colon cancer risks.
Did you know taking a probiotic may make a difference too?
The Probiotic Advantage
Given the rise in colon cancer, medical research is turning to probiotics to make a direct impact. For instance, a small study appearing in BMJ Open Gastroenterology examined the gut health of colon cancer patients taking a probiotic with strains of Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus acidophilus (both are contained in EndoMune Advanced Probiotic).
The gut health of colon cancer patients improved, thanks to the increased and very beneficial production of butyrate (short-chain fatty acids created when your gut produces soluble fiber).
Another recent report appearing in Nutrients cited lots of evidence that probiotics could support the prevention of colon cancer and even its treatment. Among the benefits cited by researchers:
- Increasing the number of anti-carcinogenic metabolites and antioxidants
- Deactivating or decreasing harmful enzymes and cancerous compounds
- Reducing inflammation
- Improving the health of the intestinal wall
The Take-Home Message
There’s lots of work ahead to make a real dent in reducing the number of people who have colon cancer at such a young age. Lowering the age for initial colon cancer screenings will help tremendously as will the very straightforward lifestyle changes we cited previously.
But if you want to do a little more to fortify and protect your gut — the center of your immune system — taking a multi-strain probiotic like EndoMune could make a significant difference.
When women consider the steps they’ll take to lessen their risks of breast cancer, protecting the healthy balance of gut bacteria may not be at the top of their to-do lists.
However, women would probably reconsider in a heartbeat if they understood how restoring that balance affected the severity and aggressiveness of breast cancer.
Disruptions of the gut microbiome balance and inflammation may worsen the spread of at least one form of breast cancer severely, according to a study published in the journal Cancer Research.
Disruptions with antibiotics
Hormone receptor-positive breast cancers (ones triggered by estrogen or progesterone) accounts for at least two-thirds of all diagnoses and these forms usually respond well to hormone therapy.
Major problems arise when these cancers metastasize, spreading beyond the breast into other body tissues. High levels of immune cells in those tissues known as macrophages can fuel early metastasis.
Scientists at the University of Virginia led by Dr. Melanie Rutkowski examined how the gut affects the spread of breast cancer by altering the microbiomes of mice. (They fed mice antibiotic “cocktails” for 14 days or plain water before injecting them with mammary cancer cells.)
Spreading breast cancer
No surprise, the microbiomes of mice treated with antibiotics were disrupted, resulting in inflammation systemically and within mammary tissue.
“In this inflamed environment, tumor cells were much more able to disseminate from the tissue into the blood and to the lungs, which is a major site for hormone receptor-positive breast cancer to metastasize,” says Dr. Rutkowski.
Based on these findings, Dr. Rutkowski and her team believe an unhealthy gut and the problems that occur in the body as a result may be early predictors of metastatic or invasive breast cancer.
It’s important to note that the megadoses of antibiotic used to accelerate the long-term imbalances of animal microbiomes wouldn’t happen with patients taking a typical course of antibiotics during a typical cancer treatment, Dr. Rutkowski says.
But, too many patients still rely on antibiotics way too often, even for treating minor health problems that aren’t designed to respond to these drugs.
Gut health affects your entire health!
Your gut affects so many parts of your health that are intricately tied to your immune system, and a lack of gut bacteria diversity harms those efforts.
Although there’s many steps you can take to protect and improve the health of your gut and immune system, taking a probiotic is among the best and easiest choices you can make.
To get the most good out of the probiotic you’re taking, ensure it’s formulated with multiple strains of beneficial bacteria that mirror and enhance the diversity of your gut too.
Formulated to give your immune system a much-needed daily boost, EndoMune Advanced Probiotic contains 10 strains of beneficial bacteria from the Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus families — 30 BILLION bacterial allies — that protect your gut every day.
Prebiotics are the unsung heroes of gut health.
Made of non-digestible plant fibers and carbohydrates, prebiotics do much of the dirty work behind the scenes by feeding the good bacteria living in your gut and stimulating their growth.
But that’s not all they do…
A new role may be emerging for prebiotics as a natural cancer-fighting agent.
Prebiotics vs. Cancer
Among the therapies used by physicians to fight melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, are drugs that target mutated groups of genes (BRAF and MEK inhibitors).
Unfortunately, some of these therapies don’t help everyone and, in other cases, patients can develop a resistance to these treatments.
Researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in San Diego had observed how the addition of prebiotics to therapy regimens had helped in fighting cancer in previous studies but were unsure how those mechanisms worked.
They observed how the action of two prebiotics (inulin, a starch-like substance found in herbs, vegetables and fruits like onions, asparagus, bananas and leeks, or mucin, an intestinal protein) shaped the gut microbiotas of mice to boost their tiny immune systems and aid in the effectiveness of the medicines they were given.
Scientists fed these animals water and food containing inulin or mucin, then transplanted either melanoma or colon cancer cells into their tiny bodies.
The winner is…
The addition of prebiotics made a great deal of difference in a number of ways:
- Stimulating the number of immune cells that fight tumors.
- Helping mice develop more distinct gut health signatures, thus generating more anti-tumor immunity.
- Slowing the growth of melanoma.
- Improving the response to the presence of mutated cancer genes.
“Prebiotics represent a powerful tool to restructure gut microbiomes and identify bacteria that contribute to anti-cancer immunity,” says Dr. Scott Peterson, co-author of the study.
Certainly, prebiotics do a lot of the work to keep your good guys in your gut fed and healthy, but not all of it.
You may recall a small study I wrote about in which multi-strain probiotics played a critical role in improving the health of colon cancer patients by protecting their gut bacteria diversity.
Medical researchers are taking a very cautious approach about the use of probiotics and prebiotics when treating serious diseases like cancer, as they should be.
However, there’s little doubt that it takes a community of beneficial bacteria in a multi-strain probiotic like EndoMune Advanced Probiotic — that contains the natural prebiotic fructooligosaccharide (FOS) — to make a daily difference in your gut health and so many parts of your overall health too.
Unfortunately, the list of non-antibiotic drugs that can affect your gut has grown sharply too (coming on the heels of a report that found metformin, a go-to drug for diabetes alters gut health).
Out of more than 1,000 drugs tested by researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, 24 percent affected the growth of at least one bacterial species in the human microbiome, according to a study appearing in Nature.
Overall, 250 out of 923 non-antibiotic drugs tested on 40 samples of selected species of human gut bacteria (including one species of Lactobacillus) altered their growth.
What’s more, 40 drugs affected at least 10 strains of gut bacteria, and 14 of them were previously unknown to have an antibacterial effect on gut bacteria. The most dramatic inhibitors of gut bacteria include these commonly prescribed medications:
- Calcium-channel blockers that treat an array of conditions, from Raynaud’s to high blood pressure.
- Antineoplastic drugs that treat cancer.
- Antipsychotic drugs that treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
What concerns researchers the most?
“This shift in the composition of our gut bacteria contributes to drug side effects but might also be part of the drugs’ beneficial action,” says Peer Bork, according to a press release.
“This is scary, considering that we take many non-antibiotic drugs in our life, often for long periods,” says Nassos Typas. “Still, not all drugs will impact gut bacteria and not all resistance will be common. In some cases, resistance to specific non-antibiotics will trigger sensitivity to specific antibiotics, opening paths for designing optimal drug combinations.”
Since this study finds that individuals taking any prescription medications are inadvertently harming their gut health, they should consider taking EndoMune Advanced Probiotic to ensure their gut health isn’t being comprised by their prescribed medications.
Your ability to maintain a diverse, thriving gut microbiome by eating the right foods, using antibiotics only when you must and taking a multi-species probiotic ensures it is capable of protecting your overall health even when the worst case scenarios happen.
A growing number of studies are showing how gut health is an important part in helping chemotherapy and anti-tumor drugs do their job to eradicate cancer.
No gut bacteria, no luck
A pair of studies cited in a 2014 American Cancer Society report compared the effect of specific kinds of cancer therapies — drugs, immunotherapy and platinum chemotherapy — based on its effect on germ-free mice lacking gut bacteria or animals treated with antibiotics.
No surprise, in both studies, these cancer-fighting weapons were much more effective with mice that had good gut health.
The results were most apparent in a study conducted by the French Institute of Health and Medical Research in testing the cancer drug cyclophosphamide.
In this study, researchers discovered cyclophosphamide worked best in healthier bodies because the drug affected the composition of their microbiomes that generates more immune cells and eliminates tumors.
The importance of gut health diversity before chemo
A more recent study, a collaboration by researchers at M.D. Anderson’s Infectious Diseases department and the Alkek Center for Metagenomics and Microbiome Research at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, shows how gut diversity can be so vital to the health of cancer patients even before they begin induction chemotherapy.
Scientists examined stool and oral samples taken from 34 patients with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) at three-day intervals during a 26-day course of chemotherapy.
Also, all patients were given antibiotics, no friend to good gut health, at least five times over more than six days. The concern: Physicians treat neutropenic fever, a common problem among AML patients on chemotherapy when body temperatures rise above 100˚, with antibiotics.
Interestingly, a third of the patients who maintained the diversity of their gut health or improved it experienced no infections over a 90-day span. However, 23 of the 34 patients experienced a drop in diversity over the same time and nine suffered from infections.
In fact, lead researcher Dr. Jessica Galloway-Pena of M.D. Anderson says she wants to use the human gut microbiome “as a tool” to spot which patients need extra treatments, or be prescribed a special diet, fecal transplant or probiotics, according to Medscape Medical News.
“I really think it’s not just one (species). I think it’s the community (of species) that strikes a balance. That’s why I’m not that big a proponent of probiotics with one species. I really think it’s going to be a cocktail of species that’s going to improve your outcome,” says Dr. Galloway-Pena in a recent YouTube video about her study.
This provides more evidence that taking a probiotic containing just one species of beneficial bacteria can do some good, but not nearly as much as one that contains multiple strains of beneficial bacteria, like EndoMune Advanced Probiotic and EndoMune Junior.
Our newsletter recently reported that probiotics slow growth of cancerous tumors and improve outcomes of bone marrow transplant patients fighting blood cancer.
For Part 2 of this series on probiotics and cancer, we take a closer look at the role that gut health and probiotics play in strengthening immunity during chemotherapy.
In many cases, chemotherapy is a necessary tool many medical experts use to fight cancer that harms as often as it helps. Research shows that good gut health, promoted by taking a probiotic containing multiple strains of beneficial bacteria, may make a difference in protecting the health of cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.
Good Gut Health Protects Chemotherapy Patients
A recent study by researchers at the University of Michigan’s School of Dentistry uncovered a biological mechanism that protects the gastrointestinal tracts of mice given lethal doses of chemotherapy.
High doses of chemotherapy are often the only treatment for patients with late-stage metastasized cancer. This poses a great challenge to patients and doctors as higher dosages can kill healthy cells before eliminating a tumor, says Dr. Jian-Guo Geng, associate professor at the University of Michigan.
Dr. Geng’s team of researchers identified a key protein in the intestinal stem cells of mice (Robo 1) that binds with certain proteins that accelerated intestinal regeneration and repair of their gut, thus protecting their overall health.
The extra stem cells produced by this process protected their digestive tracts, enabling test animals to consume more nutrients, prevent bacterial toxins from entering the bloodstream and withstand higher doses of chemotherapy.
Between 50-75 percent of the mice treated with the Robo 1 molecule survived lethal doses of chemotherapy. All of the mice that didn’t receive the molecule died.
Probiotics May Treat Common Chemotherapy Symptoms
A review of evidence in a 2011 study published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition suggests probiotics may provide benefits for the treatment of mucositis, one of the more common and harsher side effects of chemotherapy.
Mucositis is a painful inflammation and ulceration process that affects the mucous membranes of the gastrointestinal tract and oral cavity of patients receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Although there are no established treatment plans for mucositis (due to the multiple factors that contribute to it) researchers found probiotic-based therapies can offer good health benefits, including the protection of gut bacteria and the inhibition of inflammatory cytokines (proteins that help in cell signaling).
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