Rates of oesophageal cancer are on the rise, particularly in men – but taking a certain common supplement could help stop it.
Researchers have discovered that zinc could halt the growth of cancer cells in the oesophagus, which connects the throat with the stomach.
While a link between zinc and oesophageal cancer prevention has previous been made, the new study by the University of Texas has discovered for the first time why the common mineral is so beneficial.
“Zinc deficiency has been found in many cancer patients,” said Professor Zui Pan, the study leader.
“Both clinical data and animal studies have shown that this mineral is very important for overall body health and for cancer prevention.
“Previously we didn’t know why the same physiological concentrations of zinc inhibit cancer cell growth but not normal cells.
“Our study, for the first time to our knowledge, reveals that zinc impedes overactive calcium signals in cancer cells, which is absent in normal cells, and thus zinc selectively inhibits cancer cell growth.”
This means that zinc selectively stops the growth of cancer cells, but not normal oesophageal epithelial cells.
As well as potentially preventing cancer, zinc is an important mineral for making new cells and enzymes, processing carbohydrates, fats and protein in food, and wound healing.
Deficiency can cause tiredness, a weakened immune system and slow wound healing.
The study authors recommend eating a good diet to ensure enough is absorbed.
Foods rich in the mineral include spinach, flax seeds, beef, pumpkin seeds and seafood like shrimp and oysters.
According to the NHS, men need 9.5mg a day and women require 7mg a day.
However, it is possible to consume too much zinc, and this could be dangerous.
The NHS warn: “Taking high doses of zinc reduces the amount of copper the body can absorb. This can lead to anaemia and weakening of the bones.”
Researchers will next explore the link between zinc, calcium and cancer.