September 9th, 2017
Contributing writer for Wake Up World
Today, most of us are aware that refined sugar is bad news for health, and several scientific studies have dramatically driven that point home, showing sugar is one of the most dangerous substances we can consume — especially where cancer is concerned.
Incredibly, Americans currently consume an astounding 130 pounds of refined sugar a year — or 3,500 pounds in a lifetime — compared to under five pounds/year in the 1820s. Most of this gigantic increase in sugar consumption is due to the processed food industry, where sugar is hidden in everything from ketchup to bread and prepared meals. Don’t forget about the fast food industry that intentionally “designs” food to be highly addictive through the use of high-flavor additives like sugar, salt and fat. In fact, research has shown that refined sugar alone is more addictive than cocaine.
It’s no wonder wonder cancer rates are through the roof. And now science has established why sugar plays such a significant role in our cancer epidemic.
A Collective Hunger for Sugar
As a high school student decades ago, I vividly remember the soda and snack dispensing machines peppered throughout our campus. For about $1.50, a ‘lunch’ of soda and a candy bar was yours for the taking. I wouldn’t think twice about such a meal. After all, it was cheap and tasted good. Thankfully, with age, I wised-up and realized processed food was nothing but the devil in disguise, where my health and waistline are concerned.
However, as bleak as my junk food junkie high school days were in the 80s, the situation has become worse over the years in the US, largely because people are eating at home less and grabbing food on the fly more — or seeking out fast and easy convenience meals when they do stay in. With two-income households replacing the stay-at-home moms of the past, and the general trend of fast-paced lifestyles, who can blame them? Not to mention, home cooking has become passé and uncool. It’s all about speed now, and high flavor. Because of this, the processed food industry is rolling in the dough. But at what cost to our collective health? According to current research, we pay a very high price indeed.
Why the Sweet Stuff Devastates Health
For decades, scientists have suspected sugar plays a major role in feeding cancer, mainly since cancer cells have an insatiable hunger for glucose. Over the years, researchers have also speculated that, because refined sugar is highly inflammatory, it provides yet another avenue where the sweet stuff encourages cancerous growth. Both theories are correct, but it’s not the whole story.
Don Ayer, Ph.D., a Huntsman Cancer Institute researcher and professor in the Department of Oncological Sciences, University of Utah, and his team have discovered why glucose feeds tumor growth. The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“It’s been known since 1923 that tumor cells use a lot more glucose than normal cells. Our research helps show how this process takes place, and how it might be stopped to control tumor growth,” he said.
It’s long been recognized that during both normal and cancerous cell growth, glucose and glutamine (an amino acid) are needed for the process. However, it was thought each compound operated independently. Ayer’ s research has established they are actually interdependent. “Essentially, if you don’t have glutamine, the cell is short circuited due to a lack of glucose, which halts the growth of the tumor cell.”
The team hopes to develop their findings further, to “break the cycle of glucose utilization which could be beneficial in the treatment of cancer.” In the meantime, it’s wise to pay close attention to what we eat, since diet can be a powerful ally in avoiding cancer altogether.
A case in point is research that found food choice plays an important role in whether or not a woman develops breast cancer during her lifetime. In the study, lab mice were given one of three diets: either high in fructose or sucrose similar to the typical Western diet, starch-rich meals or a control group with a low-sugar and starch diet.
The results were sobering. After six months, 30 percent of mice fed starches developed breast cancer, while the sugar-rich diet mice had a 50-58 percent breast cancer rate, compared to the control group.
“We determined that it was specifically fructose, in table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, ubiquitous within our food system, which was responsible for facilitating lung metastasis and 12-HETE production in breast tumors,” said co-author Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., professor of Palliative, Rehabilitation, and Integrative Medicine at MD Anderson.
Of course, where humans are concerned, this is only one piece of the puzzle — as age, sex, environmental factors and family medical history also need to be taken into account. But there’s no doubt that high sugar intake poses a significant risk factor. Importantly, along with a rising obesity and diabetes rate, as well as hypertension and many other diseases associated with inflammation, the MD Anderson study gives us one more reason to keep an eye on our sugar consumption.
All considered, we can do our health a good turn by seeking out healthier alternatives to satisfy our sweet tooth — like fruit or safe sugar substitutes such as stevia, xylitol, monk fruit or erythritol. Now more than ever, it’s never been so easy to enjoy the sweet life without destroying health.
Sugar: The Bitter Truth
Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology, explores the damage caused by sugary foods. He argues that fructose (too much) and fiber (not enough) appear to be cornerstones of the obesity epidemic through their effects on insulin.
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