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Med Hypotheses. 2014 Sep;83(3):365-71. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2014.06.014. Epub 2014 Jun 24.

GCN2 and FGF21 are likely mediators of the protection from cancer, autoimmunity, obesity, and diabetes afforded by vegan diets.

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Catalytic Longevity, 7831 Rush Rose Drive, Apt. 316, Carlsbad, CA 92009, United States. Electronic address:


Third World quasi-vegan cultures have been characterized by low risks for "Western" cancers, autoimmune disorders, obesity, and diabetes. The relatively low essential amino acid contents of many vegan diets may play a role in this regard. It is proposed that such diets modestly activate the kinase GCN2 - a physiological detector of essential amino acid paucity - within the liver, resulting in up-regulated production of fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21). FGF21, by opposing the stimulatory effect of growth hormone on hepatic IGF-I production, may be responsible for the down-regulation of plasma IGF-I observed in vegans consuming diets of modest protein content. Decreased IGF-I bioactivity throughout life can be expected to have a favorable impact on cancer risk, as observed in rodents that are calorie restricted or genetically defective in IGF-I activity. Increased FGF21 in vegans might also contribute to their characteristic leanness and low LDL cholesterol by promoting hepatic lipid oxidation while inhibiting lipogenesis. Direct trophic effects of FGF21 on pancreatic beta-cells may help to explain the low risk for diabetes observed in vegans, and the utility of vegan diets in diabetes management. And up-regulation of GCN2 in immune cells, by boosting T regulatory activity, might play some role in the reduced risk for autoimmunity reported in some quasi-vegan cultures. The fact that bone density tends to be no greater in vegans than omnivores, despite consumption of a more "alkaline" diet, might be partially attributable to the fact that FGF21 opposes osteoblastogenesis and decreases IGF-I. If these speculations have merit, it should be possible to demonstrate that adoption of a vegan diet of modest protein content increases plasma FGF21 levels.

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