Calorie restriction and cancer prevention: metabolic and molecular mechanisms

An important discovery of recent years has been that lifestyle and environmental factors affect cancer initiation, promotion and progression, suggesting that many malignancies are preventable. Epidemiological studies strongly suggest that excessive adiposity, decreased physical activity, and unhealthy diets are key players in the pathogenesis and prognosis of many common cancers. In addition, calorie restriction (CR), without malnutrition, has been shown to be broadly effective in cancer-prevention in laboratory strains of rodents. Adult-onset moderate CR also reduces cancer incidence by 50% in monkeys. Whether the anti-tumorigenic effects of CR will apply to humans is unknown, but CR results in a consistent reduction in circulating levels of growth factors, anabolic hormones, inflammatory cytokines and oxidative stress markers associated with various malignancies. Here, we discuss the link between nutritional interventions and cancer prevention with focus on the mechanisms that may be responsible for these effects in simple systems and mammals with a view to developing chemoprevention agents.