Every cell in your body requires energy to function. There are many types of energy sources available. However, glucose, which is derived from carbohydrates is of special interest within the medical community.
Why? Because it’s also the preferred source of energy among cancer cells. Not only do cancer cells require more glucose than healthy cells but they also metabolize it faster.
Dubbed the Warburg effect, cancer cells reprogram their metabolism to quickly and efficiently break down sugar to promote growth, survival, proliferation, and long-term maintenance.
Discovered by Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Otto Warburg found that tumors required enormous amounts of glucose compared to surrounding healthy tissue. In addition, cancer cells were also observed to be able to ferment glucose and produce lactate in the presence of oxygen, thus the term aerobic glycolysis.
Can Sugar Cause Cancer?
It seems that evidence pointing this way was discovered in a study funded by the sugar industry nearly 50 years ago — but the work was never published, until recently.
“The sugar industry did not disclose evidence of harm from animal studies that would have strengthened the case that the coronary heart disease risk of sucrose is greater than starch and caused sucrose to be scrutinized as a potential carcinogen,” the latest paper concludes. (1)
Many researchers have long pondered whether the Warburg Effect was related to how aggressively tumors grow and how cancer cells ferment sugar rather than relying on the same pathways healthy cells use to produce energy. It is this fermentation process that has now been linked to tumor growth.
According to researcher, Prof. Johan Thevelein:
“Our research reveals how the hyperactive sugar consumption of cancerous cells leads to a vicious cycle of continued stimulation of cancer development and growth. Thus, it is able to explain the correlation between the strength of the Warburg effect and tumor aggressiveness.
This link between sugar and cancer has sweeping consequences. Our results provide a foundation for future research in this domain, which can now be performed with a much more precise and relevant focus.” (2)
Strong Connection Between Sugar and Cancer
Dr. Lewis Cantley explains in an interview that he hasn’t eaten sugar in decades. “I have a very simple rule,” he says. “I eat fruit, but I don’t eat anything that has sugar added to it. And I guarantee everybody would be better off if they ate zero sugar.” (3)
According to an accumulating body of research by Dr. Cantley and his team at Weill Cornell Medicine, excess sugar also helps many types of cancer to grow more rapidly.
“As we learn more and more about cancer metabolism, we understand that individual cancers are addicted to particular things. In a lot of cancers, that’s insulin—and sugar.”
It’s important to understand that sugar that comes from fruits and vegetables are different. Unlike commercially made sources of sugar, which have been striped of cancer-fighting antioxidants, natural sources of carbohydrates that come from fruits and vegetables naturally come with a variety of antioxidants, which help fight cancer.
These findings are very exciting for the future of cancer research. It shows how important your diet truly is. And while researchers continue to make progress, limiting the amount of processed sweets eaten every day certainly wouldn’t hurt. Besides, eating less sugar can help with many different diseases, not just cancer.