Sugar Feeds Cancer?

Is there a link between sugar consumption and cancer? Seventy years ago, Otto Warburg won a Nobel Prize for his discovery of glucose as the fuel that grows cancer cells. In other words, sugar feeds cancer. Ok, this makes sense. All of our body’s tissues use glucose for fuel.

First, some boring stuff. A few new studies have followed along these lines and have associated sugar consumption with several types of cancer:

A study done on women in Mexico linked high carbohydrate diets with breast cancer. The same link was made by a study done on American women.

A small study at University of Southern California identified a significant increase in risk for small bowel cancer in people who consumed the most sugar in coffee, tea and non-diet sodas. (Not the purpose of the study. It was chance finding).

A Harvard School of Public Health study demonstrated that a diet high in simple carbohydrate foods such as white rice, white bread and white potatoes increased risk of pancreatic cancer in overweight and sedentary women. Besides cigarette smoking, this is the first risk factor identified with pancreatic cancer. Colorectal cancer risk has been linked to higher insulin levels, as well.

This pancreatic cancer study findings make sense. The pancreas produces insulin – the hormone that helps the body utilize blood glucose. Overweight people tend to be “insulin resistant”. This means the pancreas works harder producing more insulin. It’s a vicious cycle. Here’s some food for thought. Cancer rates have increased over the last 100 years or so. Mostly, this is attributed to increased cigarette smoking (there’s no arguing that this is the single most risk factor for many types of cancers, not only lung), and arguably the presence of more industrial chemicals and pollution.

Let’s look at the consumption of sugar over the same period. In 1815, the average per capita consumption of sugar in Great Britain was 15 pounds per year. By 1974, the consumption had risen to 120 pounds per year. Holy cow – that’s a lot of desserts!

Nowadays, in the US, the average per person yearly amount is 150 pounds per year. This is NOT including corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup which is the stuff that sweetens soft drinks. The average American drinks 34 gallons of soft drinks per year. Ugly statistics.

It’s also worthy to note that the use of refined white flour started in the early 1800’s in Europe. The rice that is so popular in Southeast Asian cuisine (highly processed) because of its color and quick cooking properties started to be widely used after World War 2. Is there an increase in cancers due to these dietary changes?

It would logically follow. Both white rice and white flour cause a blood sugar spike similar to white sugar. Diets high in white rice and white flour, known as refined carbohydrates are associated with increased incidence of Type II Diabetes. Not to mention the nutritional value is very poor because of processing. It is known that the fiber that is in brown rice and brown flour has protective effect against certain cancers including pancreatic and…Type II diabetes. Hmmm.

More and more, nutritionally oriented doctors are saying to cancer patients that cutting down on sugar and refined carbohydrates could slow the growth of the cancer (given that “sugar fuels cancer”). But the real science is not concrete enough for the medical community to say unequivocally that carbs increase cancer cell multiplication.

Since sugar gives you no nutrition (vitamins, minerals, etc) makes the body fat and causes cavities, it can’t be good. Doctors, nutritionists and scientists may be divided on the subject, but you can bet that I will be eating “brown” and looking out for hidden sugar in food as much as possible. It looks like “the writing is on the wall”….


Copyright (c) 2007 Ainsley Laing