The Sugar-Cancer Link: A Myth?

After a number of people told me that I should cut sugar from my diet because it “fuels cancer,” I thought I should do some investigating. There are tons of “experts” on the web telling this same story, but I don’t think they have the sugar-cancer link correct. There is a correlation between the two, but my research indicates that the reasoning is far more complex than many suggest.

Mayo Clinic Calls Sugar-Cancer Link a Myth

The Mayo Clinic believes that the myth that eating sugar can cause cancer to grow faster has its roots in the PET scan. Cancer metabolizes at a fast rate, so in the PET scan a person is infused with glucose that has been tagged with a tracer, and the machine searches the body for places that light up from a high accumulation of the glucose.

I wondered if people jumped to the conclusion that if cancer sucks in that glucose because it needs it to keep up its high metabolic rate, then we should starve tumors of sugar so they can’t grow. According to the Mayo Clinic, I was right.

This simple “cure” won’t work though. All cells need sugar– you would have to starve yourself as well as the tumors.

High Fructose Corn Syrup Does Fuel Cancer Growth

I continued my web-sleuthing and discovered that the answer is not as simple as that though. It turns out that Reuters reported in 2010 on a study that compared how pancreatic tumors responded to glucose and to high fructuose corn syrup. The study showed that while tumor cells do “thrive on sugar, they used the fructose to proliferate.” This ubiquitous substance which sweetens our cokes, our cookies, our everything, does indeed fuel cancer growth.

Higher Insulin Promotes Cancer Growth

If the fructose study didn’t raise warning flags, this one should:

“Insulin can ‘rev up’ cell growth. For healthy cells, this is a good thing. This is because the cells in your body grow, divide, die, and are replaced as part of the natural process of living. However, cancer cells can be encouraged to grow more, too, when our bodies produce too much insulin. So while some insulin in the body is normal, excess insulin may encourage cancer cells to grow more, which is not a good thing.”

In case you would like a review on insulin basics, when you have too much insulin, your blood sugar drops (hypoglycemia). Eating simple carbs like white bread, white rice, pasta, and sugary sweets will cause your body to secrete more insulin than normal which will then cause your blood sugar to drop. So, you consume more sugary products to get rid of the shaky, dizzy, low blood sugar feeling, and the cycle repeats.

Drugs that Will Block the Fuel Source

My research brought me down an unsuspected path: scientists are working on developing drugs which will “block the fuel line” to tumors. So while the simple “no-sugar” diet won’t kill your cancer, maybe a scientific understanding of the sugar-cancer link will.

My Takeaway

Do I believe that by putting some sugar in my coffee I am literally fueling the tumors in my body? No. But I do believe that (just as it is for overall health) we need to stick to a diet of complex carbs and limited sweets so that we do not produce excess insulin, which will fuel cancer growth.

And, please don’t confuse “sweets” with “fruits.” We need the nutrients from those fruits, but if you want to keep your insulin from spiking, opt for an actual apple rather than apple juice. The longer it takes to metabolize food, the more level your insulin and blood sugars.

I still believe in living in moderation. Have that cookie once and a while, but don’t have cookies every day. I will be running away from anything with high fructose corn syrup, though. Damn corn lobby is killing us. But that’s a story for another day…

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