While it’s not breaking news that too much sugar in your diet can lead to serious health problems like diabetes and obesity, there have been many questions about sugar’s link to cancer. We know that eating sugar can affect our insulin levels, which in turn can lead to chronic diseases, but… does sugar help cancer cells grow in the body?

While researchers continue to try to understand the direct connection between sugar and cancer, we know that the power of a healthy low-sugar diet has far-reaching health benefits.

So let’s learn some important facts to understand how sugar can affect cancer cells.

How Cancer Cells Grow

Our healthy cells are programmed by your DNA to follow the body’s rules so to speak, which means that they follow a healthy pattern of growth and replication as the body sees fit. A cancer cell is first created when a genetic mutation happens to a healthy cell or a small group of cells.

Once a cell has mutated from its original healthy programming or the signals become faulty, causing the cell to begin to grow and multiply too much and form a lump called a tumor.

As tumors grow and your cancer cells multiply, they need an increasing supply of blood. To do this, they send special signals to recruit the formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) to continue to help them grow. Once a cancerous mass can stimulate the growth of blood vessels, it can grow larger and grow faster.

Cancer cells, like our healthy cells, need oxygen and nutrients to grow and survive . Glucose is the sugar that our bodies use the most and it is used as energy to fuel all cells in the body, healthy or cancerous. Having a supply of glucose to feed our cells is so important that even without carbohydrates in your diet, your body can make glucose from other sources such as protein and fat.

Sugar really feeds cancer cells

We know that too much sugar is not good for us, but does sugar directly feed cancer? The short answer is yes – but as we just learned, sugar feeds every cell in our bodies. This is where things get a bit confusing – there is an important difference between excess sugar in your diet, creating an environment that can lead to further cancer growth, and sugar directly feeding cancer cells by driving them to growth.

Research has shown that it is actually sugar’s link to higher levels of insulin and related growth factors, which can further influence cancer cell growth and increase the risk of other chronic diseases. So you can think of this as too much sugar that creates something of a more toxic environment that can promote cancer growth.

Many types of cancer cells have lots of insulin receptors , making them more responsive than normal cells to insulin’s ability to promote growth.

Additionally, obesity, diabetes, and chronic overeating have had a positive correlation with the growth and development of cancer cells, but not necessarily a direct causal link. According to the Canadian Cancer Society , being obese can cause changes in hormone levels, such as sex hormones or insulin, that increase the risk of developing breast, colon or uterine cancer.

What should be done to prevent cancer cells from growing

Sugar has been linked to a multitude of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, strokes, immobility, elevated triglycerides, and high blood pressure. A balanced lifestyle and the reduction of refined sugars like sodas and processed foods is a good start to decrease your risk of cancer cell growth , as well as other conditions.

1. Focus on a balanced diet

Consume your recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables. Vegetables especially of the cruciferous type that include a lot of broccoli, cauliflower and green leafy vegetables that are excellent alkaline foods. Make sure you are getting enough fiber, iron, and protein in your diet. Don’t drink fruit juices that have added sugar and avoid high fructose corn syrup and genetically modified sugar or sugar replacement like aspartame. Use natural sweeteners like honey or Stevia.

2. Eat the right amount of sugar

For women, take no more than six teaspoons (25 grams) of sugar each day, for men, take no more than nine teaspoons (37 grams) per day; this equates to 100 calories for women and 150 for men. Most people in the West eat more than double that amount, averaging about 22 teaspoons per day.

3. Look for hidden sugars

Fructose, lactose, sucrose, maltose, glucose, and dextrose are all forms of sugar that can be found on the Nutrition Facts label on the back of your next meal.

Other Natural Sugars: Molasses, agave nectar, honey, and maple syrup are natural sugars and contain antioxidants that can protect your body against cancer. But you should still consume them in moderation as they contain the same amount of calories as any other type of sweetener and are still a food that cancer loves.

4. Get more exercise

Regular exercise lowers insulin resistance and helps you maintain a healthy body weight. Research suggests that weak and active people can eat a higher glycemic index diet without increasing their risk of cancer.

Remember that finding something you enjoy and can do consistently is the key here – you don’t need to start running marathons.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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