Does Sugar Cause Cancer?
There’s lots of speculation out there about sugar and its relationship with cancer. Some studies show a correlation in sugar consumption and increased tumor growth, while other studies say this isn’t the case and it is misunderstood. Most of us already know that eating a healthy diet that’s low in refined sugars and adding exercise can reduce the risk of disease, but how crucial is it to eliminate all sugars completely? Does sugar cause cancer? Does it increase the growth of cancer cells and cause it to spread? It can be difficult to determine, and there is a lot of conflicting evidence.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
Sugar ingestion seriously contributes to obesity, a known risk factor of cancer. Obesity also negatively affects their survival rates. More than 100,000 cases of cancer each year are caused by excess body fat, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. These include esophageal, pancreatic, kidney, gallbladder, breast and colorectal cancer.
It’s a fact that glucose (the form of sugar used most in the body) feeds every cell in the body, and is so important to the function of your brain that the body has several back up strategies to keep blood sugar levels normal. Even without any carbohydrate in the diet, your body will make sugar from other sources, including protein and fat.
Much research shows that it is sugar’s relationship to higher insulin levels and related growth factors that may influence cancer cell growth the most, and increase risk of other chronic diseases. Many types of cancer cells have plenty of insulin receptors, making them respond more than normal cells to insulin’s ability to promote growth. There was a study from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center that showed a link between the metastasis of breast cancer and sugar consumption.
Many researchers theorize that if cancer cells need lots of glucose, then cutting sugar out of our diet must help stop cancer growing, and could even stop it developing in the first place. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. All our healthy cells need glucose too, and there’s no way of telling our bodies to let healthy cells have the glucose they need, but not give it to cancer cells.
The bottom line is that sugar doesn’t actually cause cancer, and cutting it out completely doesn’t treat cancer. However, it is strongly recommended to decrease the amount of sugar your diet because there is an indirect link between cancer risk and sugar. Eating lots of sugar over time can cause you to gain weight, and robust scientific evidence shows that being overweight or obese increases the risk of 13 different types of cancer. In fact, obesity is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking.
So what do we do?
Make simple changes to help keep blood sugar and insulin levels in a healthy range. You can make positive improvements in your diet and to your health.
Maintain a healthy weight to limit excess abdominal weight. Abdominal weight gain increases insulin resistance, and higher intakes of simple sugar contribute calories, which can result in weight gain.
Move more! Exercise decreases insulin resistance. Research suggests that lean, active people can consume a higher glycemic index diet without increased cancer risk. Moving in some way every day is important. Even a brisk walk will do the trick!
Spread carbs out: Small, frequent meals or snacks balance insulin levels and help control appetite.
Balance total carbohydrate intake: Make sure that half of your plate is vegetables, fruit, or beans, 1/4 is lean protein sources, and 1/4 is healthy starches like sweet potatoes and brown rice.
Added sugar is more of a concern than naturally occurring in some foods like dairy, fruit and healthy starches. Become a label reader and look for added sugars and sugar alcohols in the ingredients list. Want to get a step-by-step guide to help you reduce added sugars? Get on the waiting list for my Free 5-Day Sugar Detox here!
“Sugar May Increase Breast, Lung Cancer Risk, Study Finds.” Fox News, FOX News Network, www.foxnews.com/health/2016/01/04/sugar-may-increase-breast-lung-cancer-risk-study-finds.html.
“Sugar and Cancer.” EatRight – Oncology Nutrition, a Dietetic Practice of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics., www.oncologynutrition.org/erfc/healthy-nutrition-now/sugar-and-cancer/.
5 Reasons Cancer and Sugar Are Best Friends, beatcancer.org/blog-posts/5-reasons-cancer-and-sugar-are-best-friends/.
“Sugar and Cancer – What You Need to Know.” Cancer Research UK – Science Blog, scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2017/05/15/sugar-and-cancer-what-you-need-to-know/.