Salsa, Guacamole and AML

Jacob Schor ND, FABNO

June 23, 2015


There are few foods better paired together than corn chips with salsa and guacamole (someone will write that I should include a Corona and lime).


The phrase guacamole and salsa Googles 14.5 million hits. There is something special about the combination of guacamole and salsa, together they are better for your health than either would be alone.


A decade ago, Unlu et al hypothesized that the fats in avocado would help humans absorb the various carotenoids in fruits and vegetables and tested whether avocados increased absorption of the carotenoids, in particular lycopene and beta-carotene. Eleven health subjects took part in 2 crossover postprandial studies.    The first examined the effect of adding 150 grams of avocado to salsa had on absorption of lutein, alpha-carotene, and beta-carotene. The second examined the effect of two different sized doses of avocado (75 vs. 150 grams and whole avocado vs. oil) on carotene absorption as well. 


Eating avocado with salsa increased lycopene absorption nearly 4 and half times compared to eating salsa without the guacamole. Beta-carotene was 2.6 times better absorbed. The same significant benefit was seen when avocado was added to salads.   Using either 150 gm of avocado or 24 grams of avocado oil had similar effects increasing alpha-carotene absorption 7-fold, beta-carotene absorption more than 15 times and increasing lutein absorption by more than a factor of five. [1] 


A study published last year also suggested a special relationship between salsa and avocadoes.              Eating these two food together increased the conversion of beta-carotene into actual vitamin A. Two separate sets of 12 study participants were recruited for 2 separate randomized trials. In the first trial a special high beta-carotene tomato sauce was used and eaten either with or without a 27 gram serving of avocado. In the second trial raw carrots supplied the carotenoids. Eating the avocado with the soup increased beta-carotene absorption by 2.4 fold. Eating the avocado with the carrots increased beta-carotene absorption by 6.6 times and alpha-carotene by 4.8 times.


Most notably, consumption of avocado enhanced the efficiency of conversion to vitamin A by 4.6-fold in trial 1 and 12.6-fold in trial 2. [2] 


As I search PubMed hoping to find further justification for some corn chips and Corona to go with that guacamole, a new paper comes to light. 


Late last week Paul Spagnuolo of he University of Waterloo in Canada reported that an extract from avocado attacks acute myeloid leukemia (AML) by targeting the leukemia stem cells. [3] Destroying              cancer stem cells is kind of the Holy Grail in cancer treatment. "The stem cell is really the cell that drives the disease," said Professor Spagnuolo, in Waterloo's School of Pharmacy. "The stem cell is largely responsible for the disease developing and it's the reason why so many patients with leukemia relapse. We've performed many rounds of testing to determine how this new drug works at a molecular level and confirmed that it targets stem cells selectively, leaving healthy cells unharmed."[4] 


A commercial version of this avocado extract has yet to enter clinical trials. There is no indication as of yet that eating guacamole will provide enough of the chemical compounds necessary to do the trick and help AML patients. But doing so won’t hurt.




Guacamole Recipe:


4 ripe Haas avocados

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 lemon)

8 dashes hot pepper sauce

1/2 cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground 


Cut the avocados in 1/2, remove the pits, and scoop the flesh out of their shells into a large bowl. Add lemon juice, hot pepper sauce, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper and toss well. Using a sharp knife, slice through the avocados in the bowl until they are finely diced. Add the tomatoes. Mix well and taste for salt and pepper.


[Note: one can leave out everything except the avocados, lemon and salt and still have a decent batch of guacamole. One can also add all sorts of other things such as cilantro, 


1999 The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook





1. Unlu NZ1, Bohn T, Clinton SK, Schwartz SJ. Carotenoid absorption from salad and salsa by humans is enhanced by the addition of avocado or avocado oil. J Nutr. 2005 Mar;135(3):431-6.


2. Kopec RE, Cooperstone JL, Schweiggert RM, Young GS, Harrison EH, Francis DM, Clinton SK,Schwartz SJ. Avocado consumption enhances human postprandial provitamin A absorption and conversion from a novel high-β-carotene tomato sauce and from carrots. J Nutr. 2014 Aug;144(8):1158-66. doi: 10.3945/jn.113.187674. Epub 2014 Jun 4.


3. Lee EA, Angka L, Rota SG, Hanlon T, Mitchell A, Hurren R, Wang XM, Gronda M, Boyaci E et al. Targeting Mitochondria with Avocatin B Induces Selective Leukemia Cell Death. Cancer Res. 2015 Jun 15;75(12):2478-88. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-14-2676.