Is Cancer’s Big Sugar Addiction a Cause or an Effect?

by Chris Centeno, MD /

There’s been quite a bit of attention lately on the negative health effects of sugar. I tend to personally focus more on weight gain and problems that come with it, but there’s another dimension to our sugar-filled American diet that’s even worse. Increased cancer rates have also been tied to excessive sugar consumption. So which came first, the chicken or the egg? Meaning, does having more sugar around for cancer cells to eat make a few aberrant cells turn into cancer?

Cancer Is Cells Gone Wild

 Cancer happens when there are so many bad cells your body can’t effectively control or eliminate them. These bad cells divide and grow uncontrollably (forming malignant tumors), create their own blood vessels (known as angiogenesis) in order to support their ravenous appetites, and can even invade and destroy other tissues via the body’s lymphatic infrastructure. You might not realize that cancer cells form in your body every day, especially as you age, and genetic predisposition to cancer can cause even more of these cancer cells to form. However, a healthy immune system is constantly standing guard, eliminating these rogue cells, before things get out of control.

When cancer cells are too numerous or the immune system is weakened and can’t effectively control them, malignant tumors can form. Cancer cells live to eat, hence, their own blood supply mentioned above, and if there’s one food that really fuels their raging fire, it’s sugar.

Cancer’s Torrid Relationship with Sugar

Table sugar, cane sugar, fructose, dextrose…it doesn’t matter what we label it, most sugars (including carbohydrates) will raise the glucose in our blood. This stimulates insulin production, which signals the cells to absorb more glucose to use for energy and to lower blood-sugar levels. Most cells handle this job without a hitch; cancer cells, however, are never satiated and will gobble up glucose at a frantic pace. So it’s easy to see that the more sugar we consume, the happier we make our cancer cells as we are supplying them with a constant source of sustenance and enabling their big sugar addiction. This, thereby, increases the odds that these normally occurring everyday cancer cells will become too numerous and overgrown for the immune system to destroy them.

There have been many studies in recent years researching the relationship between cancer and sugar, so this isn’t enlightening news. In fact, nearly a century ago German scientist Otto Warburg discovered a link between cancer cells and glucose, a process now known as the Warburg Effect, which explains that the energy source for cancer cells is created via the accelerated consumption and breakdown of glucose. So while the news isn’t new, the understanding of it continues to unfold as new generations of scientists continue to study the relationship between sugar and cancer. The newest research has now set out to decide whether cancer’s sugar overconsumption was simply an effect of the disease or if it was actually an impetus.

Cancer Cells’ Sugar Addiction May be a Cause, Not an Effect, of Cancer

Do cancer cells gobble up sugar as an effect of the cancer itself, or does the gobbling up of sugar cause the growth of more of the cancer cells? Which came first? Researchers in the recently published new study believe they have an answer. They concluded the latter, that the cancer cells’ fast growth and development is continuously stimulated by their massive appetites for sugar. So most cancers don’t overeat sugar just because they exist; most cancers exist and continue to grow and develop because they overeat sugar this study suggests.

While this isn’t a cure for cancer, it’s another step toward seeking cancer treatment and control and will certainly inspire more studies to come.

The upshot? Looks there are lots of reasons to cut your sugar intake. Not the least of which is to control your weight, but also to reduce the likelihood that some of those cancer cells living in your body right now never get a foothold!

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1 thought on “Is Cancer’s Big Sugar Addiction a Cause or an Effect?

  1. Sam

    Just came across this study pointing out that good gut bacteria has an anti-cancer role:
    http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/11/your-gut-bacteria-could-determine-how-you-respond-cutting-edge-cancer-drugs

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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