The Link Between Sugar and Cancer Is More Direct than You Think
In establishing the link between cancer and sugar, one thing surfaces: fasting
Human beings have evolved a long way. We no longer live in the era of hunters and gatherers. There was a time when food was not readily available. Now, everything is in abundance. We, as a race, have come a very long way.
So, are there any repercussions?
There is a constant debate among researchers, whether the cancer was rare in ancient times or not. A report by two egyptologists concludes that there is “a striking rarity of malignancies” in ancient human beings. Others debate its correctness; There was not enough diagnosis for cancers like breast and prostate. In addition to these debates, one more substance is time and again related to cancer: sugar. To understand the link, we first have to understand what sugar is. Sugar comes in many different forms:
1. Fructose (fruits)
2. Lactose ( dairy)
3. Glucose (vegetables)
Most of us are familiar with white sugar called sucrose. It’s the table sugar. Starchy foods such as pasta might not taste sweet, but they have a significant amount of carbohydrate. Sugar is necessary for our survival. It gives us the energy to perform day-to-day activities and also keeps our body moving. If there is no carb in the food we eat, our body cells turn protein and fat into glucose. Here comes its relation to cancer.
A research conducted by Dr. Otto Warburg, who won the Nobel prize, suggested that cancer uses sugar as the primal source of energy. He also noted that cancer cells process glucose using a bizarre chemical reaction. He hypothesized that cancer is caused by generating energy through anaerobic respiration, which is called the Warburg effect.
Cancer, above all other diseases, has countless secondary causes. But, even for cancer, there is only one prime cause. Summarized in a few words, the prime cause of cancer is the replacement of the respiration of oxygen in normal body cells by a fermentation of sugar.
— Otto H. Warburg,
In the following years, his hypothesis died in the noise. And, it was widely accepted that cancer is a disease of mutated genes. But soon this hypothesis began to resurface again. James Watson, the father of molecular biology, also stated that a metabolic approach is more efficient in the understanding of cancer and its treatment.
Insulin is a hormone that allows cells to use glucose from the bloodstream. When a person is insulin resistant, he has a greater spike in blood sugar levels. This spike induces IGF, which helps cancer cells to grow. Other researchers point out that the main culprit is obesity. Being overweight or obese increases the chances of having at least 13 types of cancer. Fat cells release adipokines, which damage DNA. It can gradually cause cancer. Obesity means being at a greater risk of cancer. In a way, this is related to eating more food.
Whereas, there was a study published in 2019, which concluded that people who consumed more sugary drinks had an increased risk of cancer. The study was independent of body weights of the sample population.
So, the question arises whether cancer and sugar have a more immediate link.
A notable expert, Lewis Cantley, Ph.D., thinks that some cancers can start with a high level of sugar. The risk increases with high insulin levels, and he states that many Americans consume more than prescribed sugar levels.“Having high levels of insulin is likely to drive cancer. And what drives insulin levels is sugar”, he says.
I eat fruit, but I don’t eat anything that has sugar added to it.
— Dr. Lewis Cantley
“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”, he adds. Peiying Yang, Ph.D., a cancer researcher and associate professor at M.D Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, agrees. “it makes sense to limit added sugar, including high-fructose corn syrup in soft drinks, sweetened teas, sports drinks, and processed foods, along with candy, cookies, ice cream, and sweetened breakfast cereal”, she adds.
Fasting the way to treat cancer?
Intermittent fasting (IF) is fasting on a schedule. For example, once every month, choose a day. On that day, eat for 9- hour period, and fast for remaining hours. The human body has evolved to go for periods without food. We had many famines throughout our history.
In countries like India, fasting is a very prevalent practice. There is a festival called Karva Chauth, where wives fast throughout the day, eating and drinking only in the night — on the onset of the moon. According to Ayurvedic physician, Makkar, fasting was traditionally adopted in India after the age of 30 because metabolism slows down. Cancer rates in India are rising as people are derailing from traditional practices. Still, cancer rates in India are much lower than in developed countries.
Another study on mice showed that bimonthly fasting reduces the incidence of cancer. This happens due to a phenomenon called autophagy. Yoshinori Ohsumi, a biologist from Japan, received the 2016 Nobel prize in medicine “for discovering mechanisms of autophagy”. Autophagy is a process where after a long period of deprivation of food from outside sources, cells start using internal sources; Self-eating. The Nobel Prize winner discovered that fasting truly helps the cells to clean waste. Fasting restricts energy inputs of the cell, and in turn, cells use waste to produce energy. Autophagy might even stimulate the creation of new cells.
A 2018 study concluded that patients practicing fasting while undergoing chemo for breast cancer reported a significant improvement in the quality of life. Patients also reported a higher tolerance to chemotherapy.
Bottom line: limit the intake of sugar. On average, an American consumes 130 pounds of sugar per year. It makes sense to cut down on sugar. Also, make a habit to cut down on added sugars and eat fruits. “It’ll help you in so many different ways, with so many different diseases,” Dr. Cantley says. “And once you don’t have that addiction anymore, it’s quite easy. After all, I’ve had no trouble doing it for 40 years”, He adds in the end.