There is a new danger lurking at the gym, and it's not the possibility of getting injured by lifting too much weight. Certain unregulated sports supplements have been linked to the ability of pre-cancerous pancreatic cells to "turn on" and become full-blown pancreatic cancer, a new study has found. The study warns against taking certain fat-burning sports supplements.

The other finding of the study was that a high-fat diet, usually full of meat and dairy, is also dangerous and linked to a higher risk of pancreatic cancer. The common element in both, the sports supplement and the high-fat diet are ligands, which are essentially messengers that tell cells how to act. There are naturally occurring ligands in the body, and synthetic ones, in supplements. When exposed to excessive amounts of ligands, the pre-cancerous pancreatic cells in mice turned into full-blown pancreatic cancer.

The research, which came out of the University of Michigan, caused the authors to want to sound the alarm against using these unregulated fat-burning sports enhancers, of which Cardarine is one example. In a quick search of Cardarine online, one finds supplements that promise "fat-scorching" and market themselves as metabolism boosters. The ads don't mention that these same supplements carry an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.

When these synthetic ligands first were found to reduce fatigue and boost fat-burning and metabolism in mice, the media caught wind of it and promoted them as miracle fat-burning supplements, but now this new study shows that they have a "dark side" and are tied to cancer, the study's lead author said.

"It's shocking to me," said the study's lead author, Imad Shureiqi, M.D.explains. "Initially, researchers found that these synthetic ligands reduced fatigue in mice. This news made its way to major media outlets, which nicknamed Cardarine "exercise in a pill." "Unfortunately, what the media didn't address was the dark side of [these compounds]."

Synthetic ligands also "help cancer cells get more energy from fats as a fuel source," he said. "Animal models repeatedly show the strong relationship between [synthetic ligands], and cancer promotion in the case of colorectal cancer and stomach cancer. Now we're gaining more information about how it affects pancreatic cancer."

High Fat Diet and Sports Supplements Linked to Pancreatic Cancer in Study

The other risk factor, the study found, is a diet high in fat. Most people know by now that a diet high in fat is unhealthy, having been linked in studies to heart disease and risk of stroke. But this new study also found correlations between a diet high in fat and pancreatic cancer.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center, found that a cell nuclear receptor in the pancreas and ducts can be activated by high-fat diets as well as by synthetic fat-burning substances which may free up the body fat to be used as fuel, but that same mechanism appears to promote cancer cell growth in the pancreas.

Pancreatic Cancer is Lethal, Say Doctors Searching for a Cure

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma is a highly lethal form of cancer with a rising occurrence, according to the authors, and any way to either prevent or treat the disease is considered the highest priority within the medical community. Most cases of pancreatic cancer arise from pre-cancerous lesions called pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia, the authors note. What's even more shocking is as many as 55 to 80 percent of adults over 40 are estimated to have these low-grade pre-cancerous silent pancreatic lesions.

The study, published in Nature Communications, and led by Dr. Shureiqi, who started his research at the MD Anderson Center, shows that pre-cancerous pancreatic lesions in mice, which act strikingly similar to those in humans, contain higher levels of a receptor that influences lipid metabolism and cancer formation. These pre-cancerous cells appear to get "turned on" through a mechanism related to dietary fat or synthetic fat burners.

The cancer cells can be activated when exposed to certain ligands, both natural and synthetic. That's where the link to exercise supplements comes in: Some of these ligands are found in exercise supplements, such as Cardarine, a fat-burning supplement. Cardarine is marketed as a "fat scorcher" and is often used by bodybuilders to shed body fat effectively.

Synthetic ligands such as those in Cardarine were found in previous studies to reduce fatigue in mice. When that study was picked up and touted by media outlets, they nicknamed the ligands "exercise in a pill." "Unfortunately, what the media didn't address was the dark side of PPARδ.," explains Dr. Shureiqi. "PPARδ ligands also help cancer cells get more energy from fats as a fuel source," he adds.

Cardarine Has Been Used to Treat Obesity

Other synthetic forms of ligands, like Cardarine, now found in exercise supplements, were originally designed by pharmaceutical companies to encourage the body to use more fat and treat noncancerous conditions like obesity and hyperlipemia.

Pharmaceutical development of Cardarine for medical use was discontinued when studies uncovered their potential side effects which include promoting cancer cell growth in the body. Studies linking these synthetic ligands to colorectal cancer first surfaced in 1999, which prompted most medical usage to stop. But now, supplement companies and unregulated sports enhancers are still selling substances like Cardarine and targeting young gym-goers, bodybuilders, and others who want to build muscle and burn fat.

High Fat Diet Linked to Pancreatic Cancer Growth

The study, funded by the National Cancer, Institute, suggests that other than avoiding high-fat diets, such as those focused on meat and dairy, people should avoid fat-burning supplements such as the ones mentioned.

Conversely, avoiding meat and dairy and adopting a diet high in plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and protein from legumes and soy products is a way to be healthy. Replacing meat and dairy with a low-fat diet includes loading up on fiber, which slows the absorption of food, and allows the body to burn calories rather than store them as fat.

Bottom Line: Study Finds Link Between High Fat Diet and Exercise Supplements to Pancreatic Cancer

The ligands in a high-fat diet and those in certain unregulated exercise supplements could cause pancreatic pre-cancerous cells to turn into full-blown cancer. To be healthy, avoid saturated fat in meat and dairy and focus on a high-fiber diet of plant-based foods instead.

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