Food Is Medicine

Dr. David Turner holds a bunch of bananas in one hand and a plate of bacon in another with a background of fruits and vegetables 
Dr. David Turner is an expert on advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which are found in high quantities in certain foods like bacon.

Lifestyle habits matter more than you may think in the prevention and treatment of cancer

Researchers believe the foods people eat may be a contributing factor in health disparities when it comes to cancer diagnosis and outcome. David Turner, Ph.D., is a Hollings researcher and world renowned expert on advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which are harmful compounds that accumulate over time in tissues, causing stress and inflammation. This increases the risk of developing diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Turner’s previous research showed a link between high levels of AGEs in the body and cancer risk. His ongoing research studies the impacts AGEs have in cancer formation and on the effectiveness of available chemotherapy treatments.

“AGEs promote cancer. They can make cancer grow quicker,” he said. “They are not just there because cancer is there. AGEs contribute to the growth of that cancer because the AGEs cause inflammation around the tumor, which then allows the tumor to grow a lot quicker.”

Turner said highly processed foods, fried foods and foods cooked at extremely high temperatures have elevated levels of AGEs. Due to their low price point, these foods are more readily available and appealing to people in rural communities and those who have lower incomes. Turner said this is a particular concern in South Carolina where so many of the state’s residents live in rural areas.

“If you look at the I-95 corridor in South Carolina, there’s a lot of health disparities just in the number of different diseases present,” Turner said. “The children living in these areas are more likely to have pre-diabetes. Certain heart conditions are a lot more common in African American children along that corridor. What we want to do is study the impacts AGEs have on those numbers.”

Turner said the good news is AGEs can be lowered by changing food choices and exercising. That’s where outreach and education comes in. Turner and Marvella Ford, Ph.D., team up to bring awareness about AGEs to the communities most impacted. The goal is to improve lifestyle behaviors in these areas, and in turn close the health disparity gap.

“By educating these communities about AGEs and their role in adverse health effects, we begin to improve health equity among at-risk communities,” Turner said. “I think that is a major goal for everyone. Everyone should get the same treatment no matter where they live.”

What's my AGE again?

Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are generated during the body’s process of converting food into energy. AGEs accumulate over time and can contribute to chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

graphic showing where advanced glycation end products come from and how they can be reduced