Researchers have found that the fat from fast food can help protect against Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
While fast food can be detrimental to the heart, waistline and appearance of your skin, there may be some good to it after all.
In a recent study, researchers from Boston University in Massachusetts discovered a link between palmitic acid and the pigmentation in mice when given this specific fatty acid. Palmitic acid can be found in foods such as burgers, fries and cookies,
It was found that palmitic acid controls the activity of the MC1R gene, also known as the “ginger gene”. This gene affects the type of melanin pigment produced for the skin. Plainly put, it is what gives redheads their hair colour, freckles, pale skin, and unfortunate tendency to burn in the sun.
When skin is exposed to UV rays, and particularly when it burns, damage can be done to the DNA. This damage can lead to mutations, which in turn can lead to skin cancer. In this study, researchers examined mice with gene mutations brought on by UV damage, and then gave them palmitic acid.
Palmitic acid increased their skin pigmentation (darkened the skin), helping prevent the development of melanomas. This is of particular interest because it wasn’t previously known that palmitic acid had this ability.
Now, how do these results compare to people?
Professor Rutao Cui, of Boston University, said the MC1R gene, “has a crucial role in human and mouse pigmentation”. In fact, its activation in human skin cells grown in the lab stimulated melanin production and boosted DNA repair after ultraviolet irradiation.
Although more work needs to be done, this study gives positive ground for the prevention and possible future treatment of melanoma skin cancer. Not in the form of eating more fast food, but in targeting a central role for MC1R palmitoylation in protecting against this disease.
Could there be natural alternatives?
Interestingly, many natural products contain palmitates. For instance, a palmitic acid ester in oil from the lotus flower. This oil enhances melanin production when added to cells grown in the lab.
What is Melanoma?
Melanoma skin cancer starts in melanocyte cells of the skin.
Melanocytes make melanin. And melanin is what gives our skin, hair and eyes their colour. The skin is the body’s largest organ, and it protects us against harm from things such as the sun, hot temperatures and germs. The skin controls body temperature, removes waste products from the body through sweat and gives the sense of touch. It also helps make vitamin D.
However, when the DNA in skin cells is damaged, typically due to harmful UV rays, this can trigger mutations. These mutations can form malignant tumors, or melanoma.
Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer.