A Compound Found in Avocados That May Help in Leukemia Treatment
Recently researchers discovered that avocatin B, a fat molecule found only in avocados, may offer new hope to patients with acute myeloid leukemia. Here’s what they learned.
Turns out your guac isn’t just a tasty chip-dipper or a nice complement to your afternoon margarita. No, guacamole’s main ingredient––the avocado––has long been linked to a variety of health benefits. Recently researchers discovered that avocatin B, a fat molecule found only in avocados, may offer new hope to patients with acute myeloid leukemia. Here’s what they learned.
The Heart-Healthy Avocado
A berry related to the cinnamon tree, the avocado is a popular staple across the Southwestern U.S. Although first grown in Mexico and Central America, they have become a main agricultural export for California which produces over 400 million pounds of them annually. They have also become an important component in the ongoing battle against obesity. Lack of dietary fiber is a contributing factor to weight gain, yet only five percent of Americans meet the recommended daily amounts of 21-25 grams of fiber a day for women and 30-38 grams a day for men. A single avocado offers around half the daily requirements––over 14 grams of fiber.
Loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and good fats, avocados are also the only source of a fat molecule called avocatin B. A few years ago, a study showed that it helped reduce insulin resistance. Overfed mice given avocatin B gained weight more slowly than a control group of mice that didn’t get the fat molecule. They were also better able to absorb and burn blood glucose while improving their response to insulin more easily than the control mice. Humans can benefit as well, but, unfortunately, raw avocados deliver uneven and insufficient amounts of avocatin B. Supplements need to be utilized. Still, the ongoing research has suggested a benefit for both people struggling with obesity and those hoping to avoid unhealthy weight gain. Recently, a study looked at how avocatin B can benefit patients with a deadly form of leukemia.
All cancers begin as genetically damaged cells, but in the case of leukemia, it starts in cells that would become blood cells––most often white blood cells. Fast-growing or acute myeloid leukemia originates in the bone marrow before traveling to the blood. Moving through the bloodstream, it can quickly spread or metastasize to other parts of the body like the lymph nodes, spleen, or central nervous system including the brain.
The second-most common form of leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia comprises nearly one-third of all leukemia cases. Although it can affect both adults and children, people under the age of 20 have a five-year survival rate of almost 70%. For those who are older, it plummets with just over one-quarter of adult acute myeloid leukemia patients still alive after five years. Survival declines with age and the average patient with this form of leukemia is 68. Because of that, many opt to forgo chemotherapy, which not only has brutal side effects but is often ineffective. Instead, many opt for pain-reducing palliative care.
For the first time, an enzyme called VLCAD has been targeted in the fight against the disease. This enzyme was found in greater quantities in leukemia cells and is vital for their mitochondrial metabolism, or as study author Dr. Paul Spagnuolo from the University of Guelph’s Department of Food Science explained, “The cell relies on that pathway to survive.” After screening numerous compounds for a substance that would fight the enzyme, his team discovered that “Lo and behold, the best one was derived from avocado.”
Although research is in its early stages, it offers hope to the estimated 50% of older patients who forgo chemo in favor of palliative care along with many others hoping for an alternative to toxic drug treatments. While the amount of avocatin B required by the treatment is substantial, it does suggest that for the rest of us, an avocado a day may be even more effective than an apple at keeping the doctor away.
- Closing America’s Fiber Intake Gap
- Chart of high-fiber foods
- Avocatin B Protects Against Lipotoxicity and Improves Insulin Sensitivity in Diet-Induced Obesity
- What Is Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)?
- Leukemia – Acute Myeloid – AML: Statistics
- Very long chain fatty acid metabolism is required in acute myeloid leukemia