Analysis of data from a large, multi-ethnic, population-based cohort study called the SABOR Study, done by the researchers from the United States found that an increased intake of saturated fatty acids, especially stearic acid, was associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer. However, the study did not find any significant association between omega-3 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) or any other individual polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and prostate cancer risk. In any case, it is better to avoid high intake of supplements/foods rich in saturated fatty acids such as stearic acid, to reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
What is Stearic Acid?
Stearic acid is one of the most common saturated fatty acids and is found in both animal and vegetable fats. Fatty acids are nothing but the building blocks of fats.
Some of the common dietary saturated fatty acids are :
- Stearic acid
- Palmitic acid
- Lauric acid
- Myristic acid
However, the relative proportions of these saturated fatty acids in different foods may vary.
Following a diet high in saturated fats is associated with increased levels of LDL(low density lipoprotein) or bad cholesterol. Hence, a link between high intake of diets rich in saturated fats and increased risks of life threatening diseases such as cardiovascular diseases is not surprising. Foods such as red meat and processed meat are high in saturated fats. Saturated fats from these animal-derived foods comprise the major proportion of fat in Western diets. Examples of the foods high in stearic acid are lard, beef tallow, cocoa butter, mutton tallow and butter.
Some previous studies had shown that our body may be able to partly convert stearic acid which is a saturated fatty acid to oleic acid which is a mono-unsaturated fatty acid, and hence might be able to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol slightly, possibly helping us to stay away from health problems. However, the rate of this conversion might not be significant enough to highlight such a benefit.
Hence, different studies have been carried out to evaluate the effects of intake of saturated fatty acids on the risk of different cancer types. Dietary fats and fatty acids have also been in the hot seat of dietary studies related to prostate cancer. However, the dose-dependent impact of fatty acids such as stearic acid on the risk of prostate cancer was not evaluated in many of the studies. In this blog, we will zoom into a recent meta-analysis published in 2018, which evaluated the impact of different fatty acids including stearic acid on prostate cancer risk, along with their dose-dependent effect.
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Stearic Acid Intake and the Risk of Prostate Cancer
In November 2018, findings from a study called the SABOR (San Antonio Biomarkers of Risk) Study, done by the researchers from the University of Texas, University of Kansas and CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Medical Center in the United States, which evaluated the association between nutrient intake and prostate cancer risk, was published in the Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases Journal. (Michael A Liss et al, Prostate Cancer Prostatic Dis., 2018)
The SABOR study was a clinical validation site for the National Cancer Institute Early Detection Research Network which included a multi-ethnic population of a total of 3880 men from the San Antonio and South Texas area who had no history of prostate cancer. After an average follow-up of 8.9 years, 1903 men provided dietary intake information through food frequency questionnaires. Among these, 229 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer subsequently.
Key Findings of the Study:
- Among all nutrients evaluated, intake of stearic acid had the most impact and was associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer.
- Every 20% increased intake of stearic acid (with the intake increasing from one quintile to the next quintile) was associated with a 23% increased risk of prostate cancer.
- Every 20% increased intake of total saturated fatty acids was associated with a 19% increased risk of prostate cancer.
- Every 20% increased intake of trans-fatty acids was associated with a 21% increased risk of prostate cancer.
- There was no association between omega-3 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) or any other individual polyunsaturated fatty acids and prostate cancer risk.
Analysis of the results from the study found that a high intake of certain saturated fatty acids, especially stearic acid, was associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer, with the risk increasing along with stearic acid intake, in a dose-dependent manner. The findings from the study highlight the need for dietary modifications of foods/supplements high in stearic acid and other fatty acid intake to reduce the risk of prostate cancer, particularly for patients who are at high risk of this cancer, as identified by prostate cancer screening.
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