You’ve likely heard that “sugar feeds cancer.” Well, it’s true. A research paper published in the journal Cancer Research supports other studies suggesting that people who eat diets high in sugar have a higher risk of cancer.
Many cancer patients are told what they eat after being diagnosed doesn’t matter, but preliminary animal research (and don’t forget we humans are animals) shows that it does matter.
The research findings are just another piece to the evidence puzzle of a body of science displaying those who eat a Western-style diet—high intake of red meat, refined sugars and saturated fats—put themselves more at risk for several types of cancer. And according to a recent study, up to 90% of cancer cases are due to lifestyle choices and environmental factors, such as smoking, not exercising and unhealthy eating habits.
While some research points fingers at refined sugars being the big problem, this is harder to prove since sugar is such a broadly used term. But your body does need some sugars because they’re essential nutrients, and glucose, a form of sugar, is what your body uses to produce energy.
So if you’re looking for the main cancer-feeding culprit, look no further than fructose.
Fructose affects a metabolic process, also called 12-LOX, that helps cells metastasize, or spread. And most cancer patients don’t die from their primary tumor; they actually die from metastatic disease. Further proving why people who eat higher amounts of sugar in their diet have a higher chance of having advanced cancer.
The research study from above fed mice sugar in similar doses to what the average American daily consumes, and they fed them four varied diets that were heavy in various sugars or heavy in starch. They also used mice that were genetically predisposed to breast cancer like many humans are.
After a six-month period, 30% of the mice fed a diet heavy in starch had breast cancer. But 50% of the mice that were fed more sucrose had breast tumors, and the more sugar they were given, the larger their tumors grew.
Since sugar is made up of two sugars—fructose and glucose—the team of researchers studied further to see if either made a difference since our bodies process the two differently; fructose by the liver and glucose more so by the pancreas and other organs. Through a series of experiments, they found that sugar made the mice’s tumors grew faster, but it was the mice given more fructose whose tumors notably grew faster and larger.
While the research team still isn’t 100% sure how this happens or how the 12-LOX pathway impacts cancer, what they do know for certain is that fructose makes this pathway more active.
And this study provides crystal-clear implications for us as humans—that we need to lessen our fructose intake. Fructose is found in natural fruit, so while it’s not necessarily worse for us than other sugars, like all things it needs to be taken in moderation. But that’s not what most Americans do. The average person daily consumes 70 grams of fructose, which is 300% higher than the recommended amount.
And when we look at just sugar in general, The World Health Organization says people should be getting no more than 5% of their total energy intake from sugar, while the USDA advises people should consume a maximum of 10% of calories from sugar, equaling about 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 teaspoons for men.
The USDA amount equaled the lowest dosage of sugar the research team gave their study mice, and even that small amount fueled tumor growth.
So if a typical 12-ounce can of soda pop has about 10 teaspoons of sugar—and on a regular day you have one or two cans plus a donut, some fruit, a couple slices of bread and a microwavable meal—you’re fueling your body with the wrong kind of growth.
Reducing your sugar intake helps reduce your chances of fueling cancer growth, heart disease, and diabetes.