Lately researchers have made a lot of connections between sugar and cancer. Insulin surges and sugar consumption have been linked to breast cancer in postmenopausal women, and the December ’11 Bottom Line Health featured an intriguing article titled, “The Sugar-Cancer Link: Overdoing Sweet Foods May Cause Tumors to Grow,” by Patrick Quillin, Ph.D., R.D.
“There is growing scientific evidence that consistently high levels of blood sugar may be linked to an increased risk for, and faster progression of, some cancers,” QuilIan states emphatically. Essentially he makes the case that reducing your intake of processed sugars and refined carbohydrates could reduce cancer risk and enhance cancer treatment.
In fact, according to an article I saw online, the ketogenic diet is one of the best ways to prevent many cancers—and is the best diet for those in treatment for the disease. I had to consult our resident researchers, Jerry Brainum, on that. He agreed that getting rid of insulin-spiking carbs makes sense in fighting cancer, but he also stressed that you don’t want to avoid fruit.
“One of the features of fructose [fruit sugar] metabolism is that it is not absorbed rapidly but is converted to glucose much more slowly than other simple-sugar sources. For this reason it was recommended for diabetic use for many years, until it was discovered that high fructose intake also can boost liver triglycerides and thus set you up for fatty liver problems. The fear of fructose that many bodybuilders have, however, is ill-founded and akin to their misguided fear of eating egg yolks. For one thing, exercising uses up excess fructose, and it’s even capable of restoring depleted liver glycogen stores faster than other sugars…. The fructose found in fruits amounts to less than 5 percent of the weight of the fruit, and the natural fiber content of the fruit also prevents the rapid liver-triglyceride effect.”
Good stuff, Jerry! But what about simple sugars and cancer? According to Quillin, “Swedish investigators tracked blood glucose and rates of cancer and cancer deaths among more than 500,000 men and women for 10 years. The researchers found that men with the highest blood glucose levels had a significantly higher risk of developing and dying of such cancers as those of the liver, gallbladder and respiratory tract than those with the lowest glucose levels.”
In another study out of Singapore that followed more than 60,000 men and women for 14 years, those who drank two or more sugared sodas per week had almost twice the risk of developing pancreatic cancer as those who didn’t drink sodas.
Brainum agrees with the sugar-cancer link: “Cancer cells feed on sugar, since they have anaerobic metabolisms. If you reduce severely the intake of sugar, the tumors undergo apoptosis, or kill themselves, due to lack of fuel. It works even better if you add a relatively benign drug called metformin, often used to treat diabetics and those with insulin resistance. The metformin blocks the release of sugar from the liver and thus adds to the ketogenic-diet effect. Several studies have shown it to have potent anticancer effects for a variety of cancers.”
Younger people may not be as susceptible to this connection due to their youthful immune systems. As we get older, however, our health depends on limiting simple sugar—for weight control as well as cancer prevention. Whether you’re young or old, the cancer-sugar link is something to consider before you eat that huge piece of cake.