High levels of methylmalonic acid in old age may increase risks of cancer metastasis, indicates study

Methylmalonic acid or MMA, but it is produced in small amounts every time your body converts food into energy.

Myupchar August 26, 2020 00:34:28 IST
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High levels of methylmalonic acid in old age may increase risks of cancer metastasis, indicates study

You might not have heard of methylmalonic acid or MMA, but it is produced in small amounts every time your body converts food into energy. According to MedlinePlus, your body is likely to make extra amounts of MMA if you have low Vitamin B12 levels. The best way to know if you have a Vitamin B12 deficiency, which can lead to serious health conditions like anemia, is by testing MMA levels in your blood — the higher the MMA levels the greater your Vitamin B12 deficiency.

But if a recent study published in the journal Nature is anything to go by, there may be more to how MMA affects your body than just indicating Vitamin B12 deficiency. The new study indicates that MMA in the blood of older adults can speed up the metastasis and aggressiveness of cancer cells, leading to the promotion of tumour growth.

Age, cancer and MMA

The researchers behind this study observed that MMA levels in the blood are much higher in healthy adults above the age of 60 years rather than in healthy adults below the age of 30 years. These high MMA levels did not cause any signs of ill health in any of these individuals no matter what their age. This indicates that merely the presence of MMA in blood serum does not indicate the initiation of cancer.

To further examine this, the researchers then introduced the blood serum of the older group — the one with the higher concentration of MMA — to human cancer cells. As a result of this introduction of MMA, the cancer cells started metastasising, which means that they started growing rapidly and transformed from primary tumours to seed cancers that can spread to the rest of the body via the bloodstream or the lymphatic system. Metastatic cancer, as you may know, is the aggressive form of cancer that spreads very quickly from the primary site of cancer to the rest of the body.

Metastatic cancers, according to the American Cancer Society, can soon turn into advanced cancer, which in turn cannot be cured or controlled by treatment. Metastatic cancers in people older than 65 years are associated with a very high risk of cancer-related mortality and have usually been linked to greater exposure to mutagens (compounds that cause genes and DNA to mutate abnormally and metastasize). The Nature study, however, indicates that MMA may have a huge role to play in the metastasis of cancer cells in older adults.

Why do older adults have high MMA?

The study found that the presence of large lipid structures in the blood/serum of the older group induced the MMA to metastasize cancer cells. Removing these lipid or fat structures stopped the MMA from entering the cancer cells and metastasising them. So, not only do fatty acids and lipids help create MMA but also promote its metastasising action on cancer cells.

This indicates that low cholesterol levels as you reach the age of 50 or 60 years may help control this toxic accumulation of MMA in the blood. Another factor that may reduce MMA accumulation in the blood serum of older adults, the study indicates, is a low-protein diet. A low-protein diet between the ages of 50 and 65 years can reduce the risk of MMA formation while also improving immune responses against cancer cells.

For more information, read our article on Cancer.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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