The Sugar/Cancer Connection

Posted by Candice Hughes

As I sit here contemplating my next post related to sugar, I am happily chomping down on a Little Debbie Nutty Bar. For real. I kid you not. Another terrifying confession is that it is my third today…and I’m not talking about individual bars. I mean it is my third package of two. That means 6 nutty bar sticks today. So far. I also have a Hershey’s Symphony bar next to the bed for dessert after my dessert.

What is wrong with me?

Anyway, the next important topic in the series on sugar is its link to the development and growth of cancers in the body.

I had never heard this before, but when I googled it, I found a zillion websites discussing this very topic. If the sugar/cancer link is old news to you, feel free to go elsewhere to entertain yourself. Or, here.

Apparently, some people are convinced that sugar is the main cause of cancer and that it FEEDS it. Not exactly something you want to read when you’re destroying a box of Nutty Bars. Now, we all know deep down in our heart of hearts that sugar is bad for you. Nobody is denying that. But cancer?

In my introduction to sugar post, I talked about metabolic disorder and insulin resistance being a result of sugar consumption. As further discussion on the matter, it seems that insulin resistance may be the foundation of the sugar-feeds-cancer reality. I found an amazing blog written by a Clinical Nutritionist called Real Food Forager that discusses all of this really well:

Sugar feeds cancer. Nutritionists have been saying that for years backed by scientific proof. One researcher providing this proof is Graig Thompson who is now the president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. In an interview with Gary Taubes that was presented in The New York Times Magazine article called “Is Sugar Toxic?”, Thompson explains that the fuel for cancer is blood sugar. Insulin supplies cancer cells with the nutrients (sugar) and signals to grow and multiply. Some cancers develop mutations that increases the influence of insulin on the cell, while other cells simply take advantage of the elevated levels of insulin present in the body. Thompson believes that cell mutations occur when insulin drives cells to take up and metabolize sugar. These mutations turn precancerous cells into malignant tumors.

In fact, researchers such as Drs. ML Slattery, et al., have found that the development of certain cancers are correlated with an increased consumption of simple carbohydrates and sugars, mainly due to their effect on blood glucose levels. In Dr. Slattery’s article, colon cancer was effected by dietary sugar intake. Similarly, Drs. Dominique S. Michaud, et al., have also found a link between glucose metabolism and pancreatic cancer. Concluding, the doctors argue that “A diet high in glycemic load may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer in women who already have an underlying degree of insulin resistance.” Most of these women are often obese and leading sedentary lifestyles.

One of the most alarming sentences I found amongst the articles I looked  at was this one, in a study on fructose and pancreatic cancer: “These findings show that cancer cells can readily metabolize fructose to increase proliferation.” (Fructose Induces Transketolase Flux to Promote Pancreatic Cancer Growth, Drs. Haibo Liu, Anthony Heaney, et al.)

That said, some websites and articles I found, such as this one from a cancer support website, is not explicit in linking insulin resistance or metabolic diseases to cancer proliferation.

Another answer to this question that I think is much better is from Beth Reardon of Caring.com on an MSN Health website. Here it is:

Q: Does Sugar Feed Cancer Cells?

A: The short answer is no — with a big qualifying “but.” Glucose (sugar) is the primary fuel for most of the cells in the body, including the brain, muscles, and — yes — even cancer cells. It’s the preferred fuel because it’s easily taken up by most cells throughout the body to use as an energy source.

But to say that sugar feeds cancer is a misstatement. Elevated levels of blood sugar stimulate the release of insulin from the pancreas. If insulin levels remain elevated for long periods of time, this causes an increase in inflammation — basically, the body’s normal immune response goes into a kind of unhealthy overdrive. Then, through a complex and coordinated series of events, tumor cells use this inflammatory process to signal cells to multiply. It’s the prolonged release of insulin in response to chronic elevations in blood sugar that’s the true problem.

The goal, therefore — and the most important concept to understand — is that through the foods you choose to eat, you can create an anti-inflammatory environment in the body. You can stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels.

To accomplish this and avoid those damaging fluctuations in blood sugar:

  • Minimize intakes of processed foods that are high in refined flours and sugars, foods obviously high in white starches (sugar and white flour), and juices.
  • Choose foods that are close to their original forms found in nature (whole fruits instead of fruit juices, whole grains instead of white bread, etc.).
  • Switch to more whole grains and high-fiber foods. Good examples: steel-cut oats, brown rice.
  • Look for colorful produce. Great anti-inflammatory choices include blueberries, red grapes, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower), and tomatoes.
  • Consume naturally healthy fats found in nuts, seeds, nut butters, extra-virgin olive oil, canola oil, and avocados. Avoid trans fats (check nutrition labels) and oils such as corn, vegetable, and safflower, as well as mayonnaise and most processed salad dressings (the kind found bottled on grocery store shelves).
  • Limit alcohol consumption to one to two glasses per day; red wine is the best choice, since it has the most anti-inflammatory chemicals.

I like this answer because Reardon talks about insulin and lays out the healthiest diet possible for anyone to follow, whether you are battling or attempting to prevent cancer. However, I do think that Reardon could be more explicit in detailing the dangers of consuming sweets – chocolate, cakes, candy, pastries, Little Debbies, etc. Seriously, the only good thing about these foods are the warm, fuzzy feelings they give you when presented on special occasions (birthdays, Valentine’s Day, every day) or when you have an addiction. If they don’t directly cause cancer, they certainly don’t seem to be preventing it.

I don’t know, but it seems like cutting out refined sugars (and trashing the Nutty Bars) may be my best bet. But, bloggies, what do you think? Is it important to cut out sugar from the diet? Is moderation the key? What is your experience? 

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5 responses to “The Sugar/Cancer Connection

  1. Realistically, it would be the best to cut out refined sugars completely because your body doesn’t need them to function. The problem is, living in a western world, you’re constantly surrounded by the temptations of all the goodies: cakes, cookies, candy, ice cream being just a a few of them. That reason alone makes it hard to say no. I will have a cookie, if it’s around, once a month or so and that is where I draw the line. I also feel like I’ve put enough garbage in my body as a kid that it’s time to get focused and disciplined. Great post and I look forward to sharing more with you:))

    • Thanks! I was telling my husband that supermarkets are like sugar death traps. Everywhere you turn there are those temptations! Even the bakeries are in the produce areas… When I finish filling my bag with oranges or apples, I turn around and am staring at a delicious-looking display of donuts. Yikes! I’m on the move to eliminating ALL sugar from my diet. I know only good things will come of it! While you say you’ve put enough garbage in as a kid, I keep telling myself I’ve put enough in since getting pregnant (almost 2 years ago – lol). Good for you getting focused and disciplined!

      I checked out your blog, also – you have some serious skin allergies it sounds like! Looking forward to hearing more from you!

  2. I have a serious sweet tooth, but I have found that moderation is key. I don’t even buy sweet stuff (aka cookies, snack cakes, candy, etc) at the grocery anymore because I know if I do, i’ll just eat it ALL. If I’m really craving i’ll buy some skinny cow ice cream, some yogurt covered pretzels, or eat a piece of fruit. I find it better to not tempt myself because i’ll give in, every time!

    • Hey Emily! We don’t buy sweet stuff anymore, either (except most of the time when I’m at the store and I see something chocolatey – but in all honesty, I have cut out about half the sugar from my diet)!!! You are a better woman than me if you can resist it though! 🙂 🙂

  3. Pingback: Can We Eat to Starve Cancer? « The Uncooked Life·

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