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Sugar and Cancer

Many people have heard that sugar causes cancer or can make cancer grow. While sugar should be limited for other reasons, avoiding it completely is not necessary. Read more for expert knowledge on the subject.

From the American Cancer Society:

Question: Does sugar “feed” cancer?

Answer: No, sugar intake has not been shown to directly increase the risk of getting cancer or making it worse. Still, sugars and sugar-sweetened drinks add large amounts of calories to the diet and can cause weight gain, which we know can affect cancer risk.






From Mayo Clinic:

Myth: People with cancer shouldn’t eat sugar, since it can cause cancer to grow faster.

Fact: “Sugar doesn’t make cancer grow faster. All cells, including cancer cells, depend on blood sugar (glucose) for energy. But giving more sugar to cancer cells doesn’t speed their growth. Likewise, depriving cancer cells of sugar doesn’t slow their growth.”

This misconception may be based in part on a misunderstanding of positron emission tomography (PET) scans, which use a small amount of radioactive tracer — typically a form of glucose. All tissues in your body absorb some of this tracer, but tissues that are using more energy — like cancer cells — absorb greater amounts. For this reason, some people have concluded that cancer cells grow faster on sugar. But this isn’t true.

However, there is some evidence that consuming large amounts of sugar is associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, including esophageal cancer. It can also lead to weight gain and increase the risk of obesity and diabetes, which may increase the risk of cancer”.

From Julie Lanford, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN, :

“Our bodies need sugar, specifically glucose, for energy. Every cell of our body, especially the brain, needs glucose to live. The sugar that we need comes from 2 places. One is from the carbohydrate that we eat. When we eat carbohydrates (either complex carbs, like whole grains or simple carbs like syrups), our body digests them and breaks them down into glucose for the body to use. The second source of glucose is actually from our body. Our body will make the sugar we need if we don’t get enough from our food.

Therefore, even if you cut out all intake of sugar or other form of carbohydrate, your body will make the sugar you need from fat and protein. This is not the ideal situation for your body, as it can cause your body to go into a stressful state. There is a certain amount of carbohydrate that is important for healthy cell function.”

sugar diagram

From Angelea Bruce, RD, CSO, CNSC, oncology dietitian for Sharp Healthcare in San Diego:

“Cells use glucose the way cars use gas. With normal driving, our car uses varying amounts of gas depending on whether we are idling or accelerating. Normal cells divide at varying rates, some every 3 days and some every 3 months, or more. During cell division, more glucose is used, much like an accelerating car uses more gas. But after cell division, it returns to more of an idling state, using less glucose.

Cancer cells are like cars with the accelerator stuck to the floor, using glucose at high rates, because they are dividing at much faster rates than normal cells. If you still want to  be able to drive your car, you cannot fix it if it has the accelerator stuck down simply by letting it run out of gas. For the same reason, you cannot starve cancer cells of glucose because you will also be depriving your healthy cells of fuel”. The cancer cells are much more stubborn than the normal ones and will persist at the expense of the rest of the body.

“Obviously, we don’t want people to over consume simple sugars. It is a reasonable goal to balance carb portions with protein and fat in order to minimize high circulating levels of insulin and IGF-1. And of course, getting most of your carbs from whole grains, vegetables and fruits is a very nutritious way to eat, as opposed to getting most of your carbs from added sugars.”




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