Avocados to Treat Leukemia

A new study out of the University of Waterloo in Canada published in the journal Cancer Research, is giving us one more reason to love avocados.  The team of Canadian researchers has found a lipid in avocados that fights acute myeloid leukemia, a rare type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow.   

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This special lipid in avocados works against the cancer by targeting the leukemia stem cells, which cause the disease.  Although there are typically less than 200,000 cases of acute myeloid leukemia in the United States per year and it is medically treatable once diagnosed, there are still very few drug treatments for patients that will target the stem cells.  Something as simple as an avocado fruit could mean better, more natural treatment for all sufferers.

The new research found that molecules derived from avocados could be effective in treating this form of leukemia.  Although rare, acute myeloid leukemia is often fatal with 5 years for people over the age of 65.  Current treatment to manage the disease is in the form of taxing chemotherapies, which can reduce quality of life even if increasing life expectancy. 

The avocado-derived drug could change all of this.  The drug would target the stem cells of the disease where the disease develops, and the culprit behind leukemia relapse. The avocado lipid targets leukemia stem cells exclusively at a molecular level, while leaving healthy cells intact and unharmed. 

This team of researchers is applying a pharmaceutical drug discovery approach to food derived compounds.  They call these food pharmaceutical, nutraceuticals.   This means tons of trials for the discovery of food compounds for use as medicine and figuring out the potential uses of all of them to help treat disease. 

Thus far they have found multiple potential applications for Avocatin B, aside from its clinical application for cancer.   Nutraceuticals differ from food or plant extracts in that they are less refined, and more prone to variability.  Nutraceuticals are more defined structures that like other pharma drugs can be reproduced accurately and consistently. 

The drug is still years away from becoming approved for use in oncology clinics, but it is being prepared for a Phase I clinical trials. This is the first round of trials where people diagnosed with the rare type of leukemia could have access to the drug.  This is exciting news as the drug would eliminate the source of acute myeloid leukemia and be less toxic on the body of those who currently need treatment. 

Besides fighting cancer, avocados are great for us anyway because of their powerful antioxidant power and their ability to rid the body of harmful toxins. Avocados are also loaded with heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, fiber, and potassium and are extremely nutritious. They have been found to help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, help you lose weight, and even taste delicious on salads, sandwiches and spreads.  Add cancer-fighting to the list, and it seem like there’s nothing this creamy green fruit can’t do!