As if Brazil didn’t have enough to worry about, now comes a new study that exposes the shady side of selenium. The selenium in Brazil nuts, it turns out, is not the kind associated with anti-cancer qualities.
But first, let’s digress.
Strike 1: Copper and Meth
They’re rich in copper, a mineral that fuels the oxidation process, and of all nuts, the highest in methionine–an amino acid common in animal foods. Methionine gets into the mitochondria of your cells, that part that burns fuels for energy, and creates free radicals of oxygen, those buggers that accelerate cancer and aging.
“If I had cancer, I would certainly seek to restrict methionine in my diet, probably to 1 gram a day (so long as I don’t become deficient in key vitamins and nutrients),” Australian researcher Dr. Paul Cavuoto says.
Strike 2: Palmitic acid
But we haven’t yet talked about palmitic acid.
That’s a type of saturated fat that leaves you looking like one big fat Brazil nut, with fat jiggling around your belly. Animals and some fatty tropical plants, Brazil nuts included, are rich in palmitic acids.
Palmitic acid damages the cells in your pancreas that make insulin, the hormone that acts like a freight train and carries glucose into cells, which burn it for fuel. If the train’s not working, then glucose starts to puddle in your bloodstream. And what does the body do with excess glucose?
In a process called de novo lipogenesis, the liver turns excess glucose (and fructose and even amino acids) into harmful fatty acids and stores them as fat—belly fat to be precise, the kind of fat that is biologically active and produces signals telling cancer cells to grow.
Many cancer cells thrive on de novo lipogenesis–turning glucose and glutamine, an amino acid, into fatty acids that they use for growth.
One of the stunning features of a well -planned plant-based diet, however, is that it inhibits de novo lipogenesis. Yes, many nutrients in plants keep the body from turning common fuels—sugars and amino acids—into nasty fatty acids.
Palmitic acid reverses the ability of plant nutrients to do that. (More on “Life in the FAS Lane–Using Plant Foods to Stop Fatty Acid Synthesis” coming soon)
Strike 3: Selenium
So what about selenium? For years now, Brazil nuts (from central –but not southern Brazil) have been touted as a good source of selenium, with one small nut supposedly satisfying daily selenium needs.
But the randomized controlled human trials on selenium and prostate cancer cracked open a vat of confusion. Men with high selenium levels who were taking selenium supplements doubled their risk of aggressive prostate cancer.
That led Professor Junxuan Lu, PhD (“Johnny,” that is) of the Pharmacology and Cancer Institute, Penn State College of Medicine to question the kind of selenium those men were taking.
It turns out those studies used selenium bound to methionine–the kind that’s in Brazil nuts. The better forms –in Professor Johnny’s words, the more “biologically appropriate approaches for cancer chemoprevention” are a different kind–and include selenium bound to cysteine.
So if not the rain forest, to where do we turn? Once again, alliums and crucifers prove their value in an anti-cancer diet. They contain selenium bound to cysteine. We onion and garlic lovers rest our case.