The Cancer-Sugar Connection
Sugar Feeds Cancer
The simple concept that “sugar feeds cancer” is often overlooked as part of a comprehensive support plan for cancer sufferers. Of over 4 million cancer patients being treated in the U.S. today, few are offered specific advice or guidelines for using optimum nutrition, beyond being told to “just eat good foods.” Most cancer sufferers lack knowledge of what an optimal nutritional program is or how to implement it.
Many cancer sufferers could have a major improvement in the outcome of their disease if cancer’s preferred fuel, glucose, was controlled. Eliminating refined sugar and adopting an optimal whole foods diet combined with top quality nutritional supplements and exercise, may be critical components in recovering from cancer.
Glucose: The Fuel of Cancer Cells
Dr. Otto Warburg, Ph.D., a 1931 Nobel laureate in medicine, first discovered that cancer cells have a different energy metabolism compared to healthy cells. He found that malignant tumors frequently exhibit an increase in anaerobic (“without air”) glycolysis — an abnormal process whereby glucose is used as a primary fuel by cancer cells and which generates large amounts of lactic acid as a byproduct. (1)
In contrast, normal cells predominantly undergo aerobic (“with air”) cellular metabolism. In cancer, the large increase in lactic acid generated by the cancer cells must be transported to the liver for metabolism and clearance. The lactic acid creates a lower, more acidic pH in cancerous tissues as well as overall physical fatigue from liver stress due to overworking to try to clear the lactic acid buildup. (2, 3) Consequently, larger tumors tend to have a more acidic pH. (4) The goal is to return the body to aerobic metabolism as quickly as possible and to achieve an alkaline tissue pH (between 6.4 – 7.0). An alkaline environment is an unfavorable environment for cancer growth.
Since the cancer cell’s metabolism, anerobic glycolysis, is very inefficient, extracting only about 5% of the available energy in the food supply and from the body’s own calorie stores, the cancer, in effect, is “wasting” energy, so the cancer sufferer eventually becomes tired and undernourished. This vicious cycle increases body wasting – often in a downward spiral until death. (5) This is one reason why almost 40% of cancer sufferers die from malnutrition (called cachexia or “wasting away”). (6)
Do Glucose IVs Feed Cancer?
In hospitals, the total parenteral (TPN) solution typically given to cancer patients intravenously provides 70% of the calories going into the bloodstream in the form of glucose. These high-glucose solutions for cachectic cancer patients may be a poor choice of I.V. nutrition and may in effect, be serving to feed the tumor. A more nutritionally balanced I.V. solution with low glucose levels in addition to a broad spectrum of nutrients such as amino acids, vitamins, minerals, lipids and co-factors, may be a much better choice and allow the patient to build strength and would not feed the tumor. (7)
The best way to regulate blood-glucose levels in cancer sufferers may be the following: 1) an optimal whole foods diet, 2) top quality nutritional supplements with a broad spectrum of anti-infective, immune-supportive phytonutrients, 3) regular exercise and sunlight, 4) gradual weight loss (if overweight) and 5) stress reduction. Professional nutritional guidance is crucial for cancer victims. The goal of nutrition therapy is not to eliminate all carbohydrates from the diet but eliminate all refined carbohydrates, and thus, control blood glucose within a narrow range to help starve the cancer and also bolster immune function.
Blood Sugar Standards
”Sugar” is a generic term used to identify simple and complex carbohydrates, which includes monosaccharides such as fructose, glucose and galactose; and disaccharides such as maltose and sucrose (white table sugar). The standards for blood sugar levels: a) less than 110 mg/dL is considered normal b) 111 to 125 mg/dL is considered to be impaired glucose tolerance and c) 26 mg glucose/dL blood or greater is considered to be diabetic (1997 American Diabetes Association blood-glucose standards).
Excess Blood Sugar and Degeneration
The diets of our ancestors which consisted of vegetables, lean meat, whole grains, nuts, seeds and fruits, is estimated to have promoted healthy blood glucose levels between 60 and 90 mg/dL. (8) Today’s typical diet high in refined sugar is promoting abnormally high blood sugar levels and unprecedented unhealthy effects in blood-sugar metabolism. Excess blood glucose can initiate yeast overgrowth, blood vessel deterioration, diabetes, heart disease, increased rate of infections and many other adverse health conditions. (9)
Blood Sugar and Breast Cancer
A mouse model of human breast cancer demonstrated that tumors are sensitive to blood glucose levels. Mice were injected with an aggressive strain of breast cancer, then fed diets to induce one of the following: high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), normal blood sugar or low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). The findings showed that the lower the blood glucose, the greater the survival rate. (10, 11) This suggests that reducing refined sugar intake is a key factor in slowing breast tumor growth.
A large-scale epidemiological study of 21 modern countries that track morbidity and mortality (Europe, North America, Japan and others) revealed that sugar intake is a strong risk factor that contributes to higher breast cancer rates, particularly in older women.(12)
Blood Sugar and Immune Cell Activity
In an immune cell study, 10 healthy people were assessed for fasting blood-glucose levels and the phagocytic index of neutrophils, which measures the ability of immune cells to destroy invaders such as cancer. Eating 100 grams of carbohydrates from glucose, sucrose, honey and orange juice all significantly decreased the capacity of neutrophils to engulf bacteria. Starch did not have this effect. (13)
In a 4-year research study at the National Institute of Public Health and Environmental Protection in the Netherlands, 111 cancer patients (with cancer of the biliary tract) were compared with 480 controls. Cancer risk associated with the intake of sugars, independent of other energy sources, more than doubled for the cancer patients. (14)
The medical establishment may be missing the connection between sugar and its role in tumorigenesis. The PET scan, a million-dollar positive emission tomography device, is regarded as one of the ultimate cancer-detection tools. PET scans use radioactively-labeled glucose to detect sugar-hungry tumor cells. The more glucose that is detected at a site, the worse the tumor is becoming. PET scans are used to plot the progress of cancerous tumors and to assess whether present protocols are effective. (15)
Kick the Sugar Out
In Europe, the “sugar feeds cancer” concept is well known. Glucose has an irrefutable role in encouraging the growth and metastasis of cancer. Based on research and the cancer-sugar connection, the best dietary recommendation for those with cancer may be a whole foods, organic diet with includes more fresh, organic vegetables, but less sweet fruit (such as bananas, figs, dates, etc.) as well as eliminating all refined sugars, (such as fructose, sucrose, sorbitol, maltodextrin, etc.) including hidden refined sugars (found in foods not normally associated with containing sugar such as soups, breads, ketchup, etc.). This carefully planned regime may be an enormous help in regulating blood glucose and hence, improving immunity while selectively starving cancer cells.
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- Volk T, et al. pH in human tumor xenografts: effect of intravenous administration of glucose. Br J Cancer1993 Sep;68(3):492-500.
- Digirolamo M. Diet and cancer: markers, prevention and treatment. New York: Plenum Press; 1994. p 203.
- Leeper DB, et al. Effect of IV glucose versus combined IV. plus oral glucose on human tumor extracellular pH for potential sensitization to thermoradiotherapy. Int J Hyperthermia 1998 May-Jun;14(3):257-69.
- Rossi-Fanelli F, et al. Abnormal substrate metabolism and nutritional strategies in cancer management.JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr 1991 NovDec;15(6):680-3.
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- American College of Physicians. Parenteral nutrition in patients receiving cancer chemotherapy. Ann Intern Med 1989 May;110(9):734.
- Brand-Miller J, et al. The glucose revolution. Newport (RI) Marlowe and Co.; 1999.
- Mooradian AD, et al. Glucotoxicity: potential mechanisms. Clin Geriatr Med 1999 May;15(2):255.
- Hoehn, SK, et al. Complex versus simple carbohydrates and mammary tumors in mice. Nutr Cancer1979;1(3):27.
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- Sanchez A, et al. Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis. Am J Clin Nutr 1973 Nov;26(11):1180-4.
- Moerman CJ, et al. Dietary sugar intake in the aetiology of biliary tract cancer. Int J Epidemiol 1993 Apr;22(2):207-14.
- Gatenby RA. Potential role of FDG-PET imaging in understanding tumor-host interaction. J Nucl Med1995 May;36(5):893-9.