2 nutrients that boost the immune system’s ability to battle melanoma

The link between the bacteria in your body and diseases like cancer is stronger than ever…

I recently wrote about a study that showed people with non-contagious diseases (like cancer) have unique microbiomes that most likely play a part in their disease… and that the disease-causing bacteria in their microbiomes can be passed to other people.

But that’s far from the first time cancer was connected to bacteria….

A 2012 study found much higher amounts of E. coli bacteria in people with colorectal cancer. A 2018 study found the microbiome of your breasts (yes, that’s a thing) influences the risk of breast cancer. There’s even a 2019 study that shows the bacteria in your mouth influences your risk for cancer in other parts of your body, like your colon.

Now, you probably think I’m going to tell you to start taking probiotics to improve your microbiome and (hopefully) reduce your cancer risk. And that’s not a bad idea. But there’s another nutrition-related way to reduce your risk of getting cancer…. especially melanoma.

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How fiber fights melanoma

A recent series of studies from researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute found that two prebiotics decrease the risk of melanoma in mice.

In case you don’t know, prebiotics are plant fibers that feed the healthy bacteria in your gut. They’re in a lot of common plant-based foods. But as you know, most people aren’t eating nearly enough of these foods.

In their studies, researchers fed healthy mice one of two prebiotics: mucin or inulin in their water. They then transplanted melanoma or colon cancer cells into the mice to see what effect they would have. Here’s what they found:

  • Inulin and mucin slowed the growth of melanoma.
  • Inulin also slowed the growth of colon cancer.
  • Inulin and mucin both increased the number of immune cells that infiltrated tumors in mice with melanoma.
  • Mice receiving prebiotics experienced changes in their microbiomes. The changes were different depending on the type of prebiotic they received. But in both cases, these changes triggered “anti-tumor immunity,” which is the immune system’s ability to control tumors.
  • One type of melanoma that is notoriously hard to treat ­— NRAS-mutant melanoma — became less resistant to the drugs used to treat it in mice who received inulin.
  • One type of melanoma — a “cold” BRAF-mutant melanoma tumor — that partially responds to a form of immunotherapy called immune checkpoint therapy responded just as well to prebiotics as it does to immune checkpoint therapy.

That’s an impressive list of benefits. And researchers are (understandably) psyched about the potential here…

“Prebiotics represent a powerful tool to restructure gut microbiomes and identify bacteria that contribute to anti-cancer immunity,” says Scott Peterson, Ph.D., a professor in Sanford Burnham Prebys’ Tumor Microenvironment and Cancer Immunology Program and co-corresponding author of the study. “The scientific advances we are making here are getting us closer to the idea of implementing prebiotics in cutting-edge cancer treatments.”

The foods that give you the cancer-fighting fiber you need

It’ll still be a long time before researchers confirm that inulin and mucin have the same effect on melanoma and colon cancer in humans.

But the great news is, prebiotics have so many other health benefits that adding more to your diet will result in better health regardless.

So, my suggestion? Start eating more prebiotics right away. Here are some of the best sources:

  • Chicory root (It makes a great coffee replacement)
  • Onions
  • Leeks
  • Asparagus
  • Dandelion greens (You can even pick these from your own yard. Just make sure you don’t use any lawn chemicals.)
  • Bananas
  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Jerusalem artichokes (These are super easy to grow yourself. But be careful. They can take over your yard!)
  • Garlic
  • Apples
  • Konjac root
  • Cocoa (My favorite on the list. You can add it to coffee, smoothies or make your own hot chocolate)
  • Burdock root (You can drink this one in a tea)
  • Flaxseeds
  • Yacon root (It’s similar to sweet potatoes)
  • Wheat bran
  • Jicama root (It makes a great replacement for tortilla or potato chips when you have dip)
  • Seaweed (There are some surprisingly delicious seaweed snacks out there)

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  1. Prebiotics help mice fight melanoma by activating anti-tumor immunity — MedicalXpress
  2. Prebiotic-Induced Anti-tumor Immunity Attenuates Tumor GrowthCell Reports
  3. Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors — National Cancer Institute
  4. The 19 Best Prebiotic Foods You Should Eat — Healthline
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.