20 links between common sugar and cancer

20 links between common sugar and cancer

There are very clear links between 'added sugar" consumption, insulin and cancer - sugar consumption has been shown to cause cancer (both directly and through indirect effects such as immune system damage), to increase tumour growth and even to increase metastases; here we look at just some of the research evidence.

Cancer cells need sugar to form, survive and grow

There's a common Medical Myth that 'there is no evidence that sugar feeds cancer cells'At Weill Cornell Medicine, Professor Dr. Lewis Cantley leads a team that has been researching the links between sugar, insulin and cancer for a good number of years. One study alone showed that drinking the equivalent of one can of fizzy soft drink a day made colorectal cancer tumours grow much faster. He even knows why. It's all to do with the P13K gene which is turned on by insulin and stuffs cancer cells full of sugar. Pharmaceutical firms have even been trying to develop drugs to stop this!

Next, I'd like to quote Professor Mark Lythgoe of University College London, in a press release from that excellent cancer centre, talking about their new type of MRI cancer imaging scanner, he said, "We can detect cancer using the same sugar as is in half a bar of chocolate ... the new technique is based on the fact that tumours consume much more glucose (a type of sugar) than normal healthy tissue in order to sustain their growth." Or Dr. Craig Thompson, President of Sloan Kettering in New York, who when talking about how cancers grow said, "It just stuffs itself with sugar"

Have you ever heard someone say, "But all cells use sugar". Well, when that sentence is used as the defence for giving people with cancer some sticky buns, chocolate cake, biscuits and milky sugary tea, ... run. They are defending the indefensible through their ignorance.

It is incredibly easy to find quality research evidence that glucose and cancer are linked, either directly, or indirectly via insulin. Lots of it. Unless of course you are lazy or have a reason not to look. Below are just 20 of the links between sugar and cancer (from cause to stimulation, to aggression to proliferation to immune damage) that can be found easily on the Internet, if you can be bothered to look (Chris Woollams; CANCERactive).

All cells use sugar; but cancer cells need it

Healthy cells can USE a number of fuels not just glucose; they are flexible. Cancer cells derive their energy from a fermentation process which uses glucose. They are inflexible. They NEED glucose for a process called glycolysis. This was discovered by Otto Warburg, who in 1931 won the Nobel Prize for Medicine. 

Sugar damages the immune system when you need it to be strong

The research is clear. Eat something sugary, or drink a sugar-ladened smoothie you bought from a supermarket and your immune system will be damaged for several hours. Just what you don't need if you have cancer.

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20 links between sugar and cancer - from research

Put that can of fizzy drink down!!!

1. In the January 2014 Journal of Clinical Investigation (124 (1), 367 – 384), scientists Yasuhito Onodera, Jin Min Nam and Min J Bissel showed that increased glucose uptake actually promotes cancer via two pathways – EPAC/RAP1 and O-GicNAc. They showed that increased glycolysis (due to increased use of glucose as a fuel) actually caused cancer to form. Cancer cells operate this fermentation-type process as their mitochondria have largely ceased to function. The Mayo Clinic states clearly on its website that, "There is some evidence that consuming large amounts of sugar is associated with an increased risk of certain cancers." It quotes oesophageal cancer as an example.

2. Dr. Craig Thompson, President and Chief Executive of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has shown that a gene, AKT, promotes cancer by signaling what a cancer cell should ‘eat’ in about 80 per cent of cancers. “When an AKT protein is placed inside a cell, it does what any single-cell organism would do - it just stuffs itself with glucose, and makes as many copies of itself as possible”. Thompson has actually induced the full Warburg effect and caused cancer in this way. Dr. Chi Van Dang, Director of the Abramson Cancer Center in Pennsylvania goes further. He says that cancer cells are “addicted to nutrients ... like glucose” and notes that when they cannot consume enough, they just wither and die.

3. Johan Thevelein a microbiologist, and a team at Vrije University in Brussels have shown that a derivative compound from common sugar (fructose-1,6-bisphosphate), acts as a direct activator on the ras gene, which makes a protein causing cells to grow aggressively out of control in cancer. This in turn stimulates the formation of more fructose-1,6-biphosphate so setting in a self feeding downward spiral.

Go to: Sugar and fructose cause aggressive downward spiral in fermentation proces and turn on cancer-stimulating gene    

4. American Medical School Johns Hopkins has researched colorectal cancer and sugar (August 6, 2009; Colon Cancer may yield to Cellular Sugar Starvation). They showed that starving patients of sugar increases survival, finding two genes that cause a cancer’s survival and growth in situations where healthy cells fail.  For example, one of the cancer genes, GLUT1, makes more glucose transporters and helps the cells at the centre of a tumour digest more glucose. Weill Cornell researchers did a 2018 study with rats. One group were given the equivalent of a can of fizzy soft drink a day. Their colorectal cancer tumours grew much faster than the control group having no sugar).

5. Colorectal cancer risk is linked to lowered levels of certain strains of the species Clostridium - bacteria that are known to metabolise glucose. Poor sugar control has been consistently linked with cancer and people with Type-2 diabetes have higher risk of cancer. This may be direct – through glucose – or indirect – through insulin, according to the American Academy of Oncology Nutrition.

6. The University of Minnesota in a 2013 study showed that post-menopausal soda-drinking women had a higher risk of type 1 endometrial cancer. This sugar consumption link was independent of any obesity issues (see: http://www.healthtalk.umn.edu/2013/11/25/postmenopausal-soda-drinkers-at-higher-risk-of-developing-endometrial-cancer/)

7. People with the highest blood sugar levels develop more cancers, and people with cancer and high blood sugar levels survive least. As long ago as 1985, researchers using mice studied three identical groups, each having been given breast cancer. 70-day survival was inversely proportional to sugar consumption. The lower the blood sugar the greater the survival (Sebastian GA et al, Biochem Biores Nov 1985, Nov 15; 132 (3); 1174-9).

8. Scientists at University College London conducted research where they resensitied their MRI machines. No longer did they need to use a radioactive dye bound to the sugar. They could just give the patient sugar equivalent to half a small bar of chocolate. Their MRI scans identified tumours simply from their high consumption of sugar. To quote Dr. Simon Walker-Samuel, "The new technique called glucose chemical exchange saturation transfer or glucoCEST is based on the fact that tumours consume much more glucose (a type of sugar) than normal healthy tissues in order to sustain their growth". The lead author of the 2013 study was Professor Mark Lythgoe. MRIs have always used cancers sugar lust. Oncologists know this. 

Go to: Using cancers sugar lust in MRI scans

9. It is a fact that cancer cells have much higher numbers of insulin receptor sites than healthy cells have, because the cancer cells need much higher levels of glucose if they are to grow rapidly. Some cancer therapies (for example, Insulin potentiation therapy) actually use this fact to drive lower doses of chemotherapy drugs into cancer cells. Insulin also turns on a enzyme P13K which helps pump sugar in to cancer cells according to Dr Lewis Cantley, when he was at Tufts. Pharmaceutical companies are trying to develop drugs to block this sugar avarice!

10. Metformin, a drug used with Type-2 diabetes to lower serum glucose levels has been shown to be extremely helpful in cancer treatment. A meta-analysis of 20 research papers by Dr. Ming Yin et al in The Oncologist (November 15th 2013) stated the metformin helped ‘increase survival times of patients’. Editor Bruce Chabner said that the use of metformin “could actually play a part in tumour reduction by helping to lower plasma glucose levels”. Metformin is also known to influence a number of metabolic (feeding) pathways, and may even correct mitochondrial use. Diabetics who take metformin are much less likely to develop cancer than those who don’t. An herbal constituent, Berberine, has similar serum glucose-reducing effects and benefits.

11. The glucose and cancer risk equation is not a direct straight-line relationship. Some cancers - for example,  glioma and colorectal - seem to be more dependent on glucose. Even within a cancer type, not every persons cancer reacts the same way to glucose. This has been explained by Duke Medical School who note that GAPDH specifically controls the rate of glucose burning in a cancer cell and aggression is detrmined by levels of GAPDH present. 

But theres a second non-linear effect - cutting blood glucose reduces insulin levels and this in turn reduces inflammation in the body because insulin is a proven driver of the Cox-2 inflammation pathway. Cancers love inflammation; it helps them spread.  In 2010, Yale Medical School Professor Tian Xu, showed Cox-2 inflammation also turned on two cancer-causing genes.


12. There is evidence that High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS, the standard sweetening ingredient in fizzy soft drinks) is actually worse than glucose. In 2010 research conducted by Dr. Anthony Hearney of UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center, studies on pancreatic cells showed that exposure to both glucose and fructose, made cancer cells divide and proliferate, but fructose (and fizzy soft drinks use High Fructose Corn Syrup, or HFCS) made them divide MUCH more rapidly. The team concluded that not all sugars were equal, and that glucose and HFCS made cancer cells react quite differently; HFCS being worse.

13. Conversely, inhibiting glucose uptake has been shown to block cancer cell development. Researchers from the Biochemistry Dept. of Oxford University used a sugar extract from avocados (mannoheptulose); this inhibited glucose uptake by between 25 and 75% (Board M; Can Res, Aug 1995; 55(15) 3278-85). Laboratory animals, given this mannoheptulose sugar for 5 days, showed tumour reductions of 65-79%.

14. Glucose damage doesn’t just involve feeding the cancer. As long ago as 1973 research showed that sugar consumption could block the action of the immune system from attacking cancer cells (Sanchez A et al; Am J Clin Nutr; Nov 1973; 26 (11) 1180-4).

15. A report (Oct 16th, 2014) in the American Journal of Public Health (Leung et al of UCSF) confirmed this, showing that consuming sugary drinks drastically depresses the immune system and in particular damages your essential DNA telomeres MORE THAN SMOKING. It concludes that ‘short telomeres have been associated with the development of chronic illnesses of aging, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer’.

16. Three to five day fasts has been shown by experts such as Dr. Valter Longo of the University of Southern California, San Diego to boost the immune system while stopping the progression of cancer by suppressing blood glucose, insulin and growth hormone levels.

17. In animal studies, short-term fasting alone delayed tumour growth to the same extent as treatment with the drug cyclophosphamide. Indeed, there are numerous studies on how fasting makes chemotherapy work better while protecting healthy cells – see ‘Fasting and cancer treatment in humans; A case series report’ (Fernando M. Safdie et al).

18. The Oncologist magazine in the UK in 2012 featured an editorial from an expert Detroit oncologist Andrew Turrisi, commenting on research showing that using calorie restriction (cutting carbohydrate calories by 15%) ‘made radiotherapy work better’ in patients.  Similar results have been found for chemotherapy (Nutrition Research and Radiation – When less is more). Full human Clinical Trials are underway.

19. Human Clinical Trials are also underway in America with a Ketogenic diet, where no non-fibre carbohydrate, little protein but very high good fat levels are consumed. This induces ketosis in healthy cells (ketosis is the burning of fat instead of carbs). Since cancer cells are inflexible, they cannot use fats and ketosis, and so they wither and die.  ‘Abnormal cancer metabolism creates a glycolytic-dependency which can be exploited by lowering glucose availability to the tumor’. Results using mice have already shown far greater survival times:  (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3673985/).

20. Oncologists at St. Thomas’ Hospital, London currently use ‘The Atkins Diet’ with patients who have brain tumours and are claiming much improved survival times. Oh, you remember the Atkins Diet, surely? It’s the one where you eat no carbs.  Meanwhile, research has shown metformin improves the effectiveness of Temozolomide, the brain tumour drug (/cancer-active-page-link.aspx?n=3752); as does berberine in other research studies. The brain is particularly susceptible to glucose – See ‘Gliomas are driven by glycolysis – S. Oudard, E. Boilier et al; Anticancer Research 17; pg. 1903-1911’.



Go to: Professor Robert Thomas reviews the emerging evidence on sugar intake and cancer 



20 links between common sugar and cancer
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