Changing the conversation about health

Prebiotic foods – including garlic and bananas – could slow cancer growth, suggests a study on mice

Prebiotic foods such as asparagus, onion, garlic, leeks and bananas could stop cancers from growing quickly, new research on mice suggests.

The study, carried out on rodents by researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in California, looked at how mice with melanoma skin cancer reacted when treated with water infused with prebiotics.

Trillions of bacteria live in the digestive tract; a study on mice using prebiotics – found in some fruit and vegetables including asparagus and leeks – suggests that these compounds, which feed the good bacteria in the gut, could slow cancer growth

A group of compounds that help create a more diverse bacteria environment in the gut, prebiotics are common in everyday foods.

Scientists found that the prebiotics populated the gut of the mice, which in turn improved the animals’ immune system.

Researchers found that those rodents given prebiotic water had cancers that grew more slowly, helped by the increased immune cells fighting the cancer.

Senior author of the study, which was published in Cell Reports, Dr Ze’ev Ronai, said: ‘Earlier studies have demonstrated that prebiotics limit tumour growth, but until now the mechanism by which they do so has been unclear.

Prebiotics help create diversity of bacteria in our microbiome, which can boost immune cells, which attack cancer

‘Our study shows for the first time that prebiotics limit cancer growth by enhancing anti-tumour immunity.’

The research team say prebiotics could be used to create ‘cutting-edge cancer treatments’ if studies on humans also prove successful.

The bacteria in the gut is dictated partly be genetic make-up but lifestyle factors including diet also influence how healthy the biome is.

Prebiotics feed the probiotics, the live microorganisms that live in the gut. Probiotics are found in a variety of natural foods including kefir, yoghurt and sauerkraut.