Sugar and Cancer: Exploring the Link

sugar and cancer

This time of year, we’re bombarded with sweet treats. We know that too much sugar is bad for our bodies, but there is some research linking sugar to cancer.

I want to start out by saying that I tried to find a study linking dietary sugar directly to increased incidence of cancer, and I didn’t turn anything up on that front. What I have found are studies proving that cancer cells eat sugar. That doesn’t necessarily mean that a high sugar diet causes or feeds cancer, but it’s definitely a reason to take a look at our sugar consumption, like Mary did earlier this week.

So, what does the research say?

A Harvard Medical School study from late 2011 looked at how cancer cells eat glucose to survive. Before you toss that sugar bowl out the window, there is something to consider: we convert all carbohydrates into glucose. Our bodies need glucose for energy, and it even fuels brain function.

What the Harvard study found is that cancer cells suppress an enzyme called PKM2 that breaks glucose down into energy for our bodies. By suppressing PKM2, more of our bodies’ glucose remains unmetabolized and available for the cancer to “eat.”

The researchers discovered that using medicine that reduces PKM2 suppression also reduces cancer’s food supply. There is no mention in the Harvard Gazette report on the study of dietary sugar or carbohydrates.

This wasn’t the first study linking sugar to cancer. Back in 1931 Nobel laureate Dr. Otto Warburg was the first to discover that cancer cells survive by eating glucose. The Harvard research builds on his work, looking more closely at how that process works and how we can interrupt it.

Sugar and Cancer: What You Can Do

Based on studies like these, some doctors are saying that higher blood glucose levels can make your body a better environment for cancer, and one way to keep those levels in check is to keep your sugar consumption in check.

Does that mean that having one super yummy truffle is going to give you cancer? No. What it means is something we’ve known about sugar all along: moderation is key. Sure, indulge occasionally in a truffle – one truffle….ok, maybe two –Β  but make sure that in general you’re eating a whole foods diet full of fiber, healthy fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy forms of fat and protein.

Have you run across research directly linking dietary sugar and cancer? I’d be so interested to take a look at it!

Image Credit: Sugar and Cancer photo via Shutterstock

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