Sweet Peril

Health & Nutrition - - CONTENTS -

Can cut­ting down sugar cut down your risk for can­cer?

You may have seen the head­lines, “Sugar Causes Can­cer,” but is the sweet sub­stance that is so tough to re­sist re­ally linked to an in­creased can­cer risk? Does it ex­ac­er­bate an ex­ist­ing can­cer di­ag­no­sis? If you cut out the sugar can you, in ef­fect, cut down your can­cer risk?

In­side look at can­cer cells

To bet­ter un­der­stand the com­plex­ity of the sugar-can­cer link you first have to look at can­cer cells and their makeup. Regular, healthy cells de­velop car­bo­hy­drates, pro­teins, and fat to sur­vive. They use both sugar (glu­cose) and oxy­gen in the body as fuel to grow and flour­ish. In com­par­i­son, can­cer and tu­mor cells also cre­ate their own carbs, pro­teins, and fats, but have less ac­cess to oxy­gen, so they seek out more glu­cose for sur­vival. There­fore, it would ap­pear that if you give can­cer cells more en­ergy they would con­tinue to grow. Right? Yet, it does not work that way. The prob­lem is that peo­ple tend to think of sugar as only the sweet white sub­stance they add to their cof­fee, and not as part of a bio­chem­i­cal process. “All cells in our body de­pend on glu­cose (sugar), but con­sum­ing more sugar does not mean it gets di­verted to feed ex­ist­ing can­cer cells,” says David He­ber, MD, PhD of the UCLA Cen­ter for Hu­man Nu­tri­tion. “You can’t pick and choose which cells get glu­cose and you can­not slow can­cer cells by de­priv­ing them of sugar through changes in diet alone.” This mis­con­cep­tion may be based in part on a mis­un­der­stand­ing of the imag­ing that is used to de­tect can­cer. Positron emis­sion to­mog­ra­phy (PET) scans are used to de­tect and mon­i­tor can­cer. PET uses a small amount of ra­dioac­tive tracer that’s chem­i­cally linked to glu­cose. All tis­sues in your body ab­sorb some of this tracer, but tis­sues that are us­ing more en­ergy – in­clud­ing can­cer cells – ab­sorb greater amounts, en­abling imag­ing of tu­mors and metastatic tu­mor cells. This has led some peo­ple to con­clude that can­cer cells grow faster on sugar. This does not mean that sugar has no role in can­cer pre­ven­tion. It is a domino ef­fect, and works like this: Your body uses sugar as fuel, but it needs only so much at one time. The liver con­verts any ex­tra sugar into fat – and de­posits it back into the blood­stream. The fat then tours through your body and is stored away in your ab­domen, hips, and breast area. This ex­tra body fat can in­crease your risk of many types of can­cer. “Body fat can pro­duce hor­mones and in­flam­ma­tory pro­teins that can pro­mote tu­mor cell growth, es­pe­cially the fat found in the up­per body, in­clud­ing the ab­domen and breasts,” says Dr. He­ber. A 2014 study in The Lancet found that a higher body mass in­dex (BMI), one method to es­ti­mate body fat, in­creases the risk of de­vel­op­ing some of the most com­mon can­cers, such as uter­ine, gall­blad­der, kid­ney, cervix, thy­roid and blood. “Much of this in­creased risk can be traced back to ex­tra hor­mones and other pro­tein fac­tors cre­ated by fat cells,” says Dr. He­ber.

Watch your sugar in­take

So how much sugar is safe to eat? Women should have no more than six tea­spoons per day (100 calo­ries), and men should have no more than nine tea­spoons per day (150 calo­ries), ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion. How­ever many of us con­sume far more than that. You can limit your sugar in­take by elim­i­nat­ing top sources such as co­las, cakes, pastries, cook­ies, and ice cream. Save them for spe­cial oc­ca­sions. But do not fo­cus on sugar alone, and take an over­all ap­proach to bal­anced nu­tri­tion and an ac­tive life­style. “In­crease your in­take of whole fruits and veg­eta­bles with a limited amount of whole grains,” says Dr. He­ber. “To­gether with regular ex­er­cise and lim­it­ing high fat and high sugar foods, you can re­duce body fat, and pro­tect your­self from can­cer.”

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