A new paper published in February in Carcinogenesis claims lactate—a metabolic byproduct that accumulates in the tissues and blood during workouts—is a key driver in the development and spread of cancer.
Lead author Inigo San Millan is director of the sports performance department and physiology laboratory at the CU Sports Medicine and Performance Center at University of Colorado Boulder.
CU Boulder reports, “The paper illuminates the role lactate plays in fueling angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels in tumors); how it interferes with the body’s immune response to cancer; and how it creates an acidic microenvironment (the space outside the cancer cell) supportive of cancer metastases, or spread. The paper also theorizes how three major transcription factors, or proteins, involved in most cancers (HIF-1,cMYC, and p53) kick-start and perpetuate lactate deregulation.
The paper hinges on parallels drawn between what happens in the muscles of an athlete in training, and what happens in a developing cancer.”
San Millan explains that “during high-intensity exercise, working muscles display many of the same metabolic characteristics as cancer cells.” Muscles convert glucose to energy and churn out lactate. In a healthy body, the body recycles the lactate for beneficial use. In cancer, the authors suggest, that recycling system breaks down.
San Millan hopes that ultimately the research could lead to new exercise and dietary prescriptions, new diagnostic tools that could use deregulated lactate signaling as a marker of a brewing cancer, or new drugs which target MCT Transporters, which are responsible for transporting lactate from cell to cell.
“We hope to sound the alarm for the research community that to stop cancer you have to stop lactate,” San Millan says. “There are many ways to do that."