- 1Department of Dermatology, Environmental Medicine and Health Theory, University of Osnabrück, Osnabrück, Germany.
This review provides epidemiological and translational evidence for milk and dairy intake as critical risk factors in the pathogenesis of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Large epidemiological studies in the United States and Europe identified total dairy, milk and butter intake with the exception of yogurt as independent risk factors of HCC. Enhanced activity of mechanistic target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) is a hallmark of HCC promoted by hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV). mTORC1 is also activated by milk protein-induced synthesis of hepatic insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), abundant constituents of milk proteins. Over the last decades, annual milk protein-derived BCAA intake increased 3 to 5 times in Western countries. In synergy with HBV- and HCV-induced secretion of hepatocyte-derived exosomes enriched in microRNA-21 (miR-21) and miR-155, exosomes of pasteurized milk as well deliver these oncogenic miRs to the human liver. Thus, milk exosomes operate in a comparable fashion to HBV- or HCV- induced exosomes. Milk-derived miRs synergistically enhance IGF-1-AKT-mTORC1 signaling and promote mTORC1-dependent translation, a meaningful mechanism during the postnatal growth phase, but a long-term adverse effect promoting the development of HCC. Both, dietary BCAA abundance combined with oncogenic milk exosome exposure persistently overstimulate hepatic mTORC1. Chronic alcohol consumption as well as type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), two HCC-related conditions, increase BCAA plasma levels. In HCC, mTORC1 is further hyperactivated due to RAB1 mutations as well as impaired hepatic BCAA catabolism, a metabolic hallmark of T2DM. The potential HCC-preventive effect of yogurt may be caused by lactobacilli-mediated degradation of BCAAs, inhibition of branched-chain α-ketoacid dehydrogenase kinase via production of intestinal medium-chain fatty acids as well as degradation of milk exosomes including their oncogenic miRs. A restriction of total animal protein intake realized by a vegetable-based diet is recommended for the prevention of HCC.