The role of sugar in the formation, growth and metastasis of cancer cells is a topic that has often divided the scientific community. While the Canadian Cancer Society explicitly states that eating sugar does notmake cancer cells grow faster, other trustworthy sources disagree and claim just the opposite.
A recent research published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation now provides experimental evidence that suggest the anti-sugar camp was right all along.
The Warburg effect
The so called Warburg effect describes how most cancer cells produce energy through aerobic glycolysis, which means that they metabolize sugar. Normal tissue has very low glycolitic rates; about 200 times lower than the fast growing cancer cells.
The process was named after Otto Warburg, who was the first to hypothesize that this change in metabolism is the fundamental cause of cancer.
Even if Warburg’s theory received a lot of publicity when it was published and even won him a Nobel Prize, it was later sidetracked. Most of the current literature views the shift to aerobic glycolysis as a result of cancer, rather than its cause. But new research brings the Warburg effect back to the center of cancer research.
The new research
Yasuhito Onodera and his colleagues confirmed that increased sugar intake promotes cancer development or oncogenesis.
The research team showed that increased glycolytic activation caused over expression of glucose transporter type 3 (GLUT3) in non-malignant human breast cells.
This resulted in the activation of known oncogenic signaling pathways. When malignant cells received less glucose, this promoted the formation of organized structures that didn’t grow as rapidly, and suppressed oncogenic pathways.
In other words, if sugar was less available, the cancer cells reversed towards their pre-cancer structure. Researchers used a 3D culture model and showed that glucose uptake levels determined whetherbreast cancer cells formed colonies with malignant or non-malignant behavior.
These new scientific findings further increase the credibility of methods that use nutrition to prevent and treat cancer.
The ketogenic diet, which cuts sugars/carbohydrates and focuses on healthy fats and protein, has been found very useful even in the treatment of the most aggressive of cancers (you can also read myprevious article about the top foods that protect against cancer development).
How the findings are put to practice in cancer diagnostics
Even if the role of sugar in cancer formation has been previously disputed, Warburg’s findings have been put to practice in cancer diagnostics.
PET scans use radioactively labeled glucose to detect sugar-hungry tumor cells. Also, in Europe cancer doctors often use the Systemic Cancer Multistep Therapy (SCMT) protocol, which involves injecting patients with glucose to increase blood-glucose concentrations. This then causes the rapid growth of tumor, so it’s easier to target it with chemotherapy and radiation.
Other Reasons to Minimize Sugar Consumption
1. One of the most obvious reasons is that sugar is very calorific, but not very filling. Hence people tend to over-consume sugar.
2. Sugar suppresses the immune system – if you regularly eat sugary foods and drinks throughout the day, then you are stopping your immune system from working properly.
3. Sugar causes inflammation – this causes pain and can lead to diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
4. Sugar can cause tooth decay.
5. Sugar reduces the release of the human growth hormone, which accelerates the aging process.
How to Reduce your Sugar Consumption
An average American consumes 160 lbs (72 kilograms) of sugar annually, and this includes ‘hidden sugars’ that are found in refined grain products, such as pasta, bread and crackers.
Cancer is a complex phenomenon, and there are many reasons that contribute to its formation. However, if you are concerned about cancer, removing sugar and excess simple carbohydrates seems to be a step in the right direction.