Common Dietary Food Additive Shown to Fuel Lung Cancer

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers have found a dietary link between lung cancer and inorganic phosphates, a common food additive found in processed meats, cheeses, baked goods and beverages. Inorganic phosphates (Pi), when consumed in large quantities, may have a harmful effect on the cells, activating signals that fuel lung cancer, speeding the progression of the disease. The research is published in the first issue for January of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Study authors Myung-Haing Cho, D.V.M., Ph.D., and colleagues at Seoul National University say, "Our study indicates that increased intake of inorganic phosphates strongly stimulates lung cancer development in mice, and suggests that dietary regulation of inorganic phosphates may be critical for lung cancer treatment as well as prevention."

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. Dr. Cho explains that those who are predisposed to lung cancer are especially at risk from consuming foods with higher levels of inorganic phosphates. Lung cells that have a tendency to become malignant are easily disrupted by the type of nutrients that signal their behavior, acting as a fuel for lung cancer. "Lung cancer is a disease of uncontrolled cell proliferation in lung tissue, and disruption of signaling pathways in those tissues can confer a normal cell with malignant properties. This study demonstrates that high intake of inorganic phosphates may strongly stimulate lung cancer development by altering those (signaling) pathways", says Cho.


The researchers fed mice typical human diet for four weeks, containing either 0.5 or 1.0 percent phosphate. At the end of the study, they examined lung tissue to determine the effect of the food additive on tumor growth. They found that inorganic phosphate, a common dietary food additive, had a significant effect on promoting the formation of tumors associated with lung cancer.

According to Cho, "In the 1990s, phosphorous-containing food additives contributed an estimated 470 mg per day to the average daily adult diet. However, phosphates are currently being added much more frequently to a large number of processed foods, including meats, cheeses, beverages, and bakery products. As a result, depending on individual food choices, phosphorous intake could be increased by as much as 1000 mg per day, "promoting lung cancer.

Phosphates are added to foods to improve texture, and add water content. Though they are essential for energy production, our dietary intake of phosphates from food additives has increased significantly with the onslaught of processed foods on the grocery shelves. Inorganic phosphate is commonly used in fertilizers. Processed cheese spreads, hot dogs, lunchmeats, frozen pizzas, and supermarket-baked goods are high in phosphate additives. Look for ingredients on food packaging. You can find a list of additives to avoid here.

Further research is planned to find what levels of food additives are safe for human consumption. In the meantime, the researchers suggest, "careful regulation of dietary Pi (inorganic phosphate) may be critical for lung cancer prevention as well as treatment". The common food additive, phosphate, found to fuel lung cancer, can be avoided by preparing fresh food.

Abstract: High Dietary Inorganic Phosphate Increases Lung Tumorigenesis and Alters Akt Signaling



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