Does Sugar Feed Cancer?
Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be terrifying and leave you feeling helpless and afraid. Some sites claim that eating sugar causes cancer, while others state that sugar can feed cancer cells and cause them to grow faster. So, does sugar feed cancer? With all the conflicting information available, it is hard to know whom to trust or what to believe, especially when you are already feeling scared and overwhelmed.
While our cells rely on sugar for energy and growth, and cancer cells are more efficient at using sugar to feed their growth, there is not necessarily a definitive link between sugar consumption and cancer.
In this article, we will look at some of the studies linking sugar and certain types of cancer, how sugar can impact your health if you already have cancer and balanced ways to incorporate sugar into your diet to prevent deprivation and restriction.
Is There a Link Between Sugar Consumption and Developing Cancer?
Making blanket statements that sugar causes cancer is unhelpful and not factual. With that being said, some research indicates that your risk of developing certain cancers can increase if you consume large amounts of simple sugars.
Researchers looked at the ratio of sugar to fiber in the diet. They found that people who ate more simple sugars and less fiber had an increased risk of developing colon cancer. Though the mechanism isn't 100% clear, they believe that it may have something to do with how high-sugar diets increase blood sugar levels.
Another study looked at whether high sugar intake could increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer and found an association between the two. However, association does not always equal causation, and other factors could play a part. The researchers hypothesize that the high sugar intake could impact insulin sensitivity and play a role in the onset of pancreatic cancer.
Finally, there is a positive correlation between sugar intake and the development of Barrett's esophagus (BE), a precancerous condition. This study recommends that folks with BE should stick with a lower carbohydrate diet.
While future research may find stronger links between cancer development and sugar, for now cancer is likely caused by many factors, not just the sugar in your diet. With that being said, minimizing your sugar intake can help with blood sugar balance, insulin sensitivity and other risk factors associated with chronic diseases and cancers.
Does Sugar Impact Your Health If You Have Cancer?
Treating cancer is going to vary quite a bit depending on the type and severity you may have. While sugar may not definitively cause cancer, it can negatively impact your immune function, interfering with cancer treatments.
Eating a diet high in refined sugars can have several different effects on your immune system. One current study found that even eating one single meal high in sugar can trigger the release of inflammatory cytokines and C-reactive protein, a compound connected to inflammation levels in the body.
Diets that are higher in sugar also correlate with inflammatory proteins, like tumor necrosis alpha (TNF-α) and interleukin-6 (IL-6), both of which can harm your immune function.
Hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, can also significantly decrease your immune function by triggering the production of a specific compound called protein kinase C. This protein inhibits essential parts of the immune system, such as neutrophils and superoxide dismutase. Combined with the effects of hyperglycemia on immune function, it can make people more susceptible to infections, which is a worry when you are treating cancer.
How to Incorporate Sugar in Your Life in a Healthy, Balanced Way
While diets high in sugar may have a negative impact on your immune function, there are ways you can incorporate sugar into your life in a healthy and balanced way. Try these recommendations for a healthy approach to sugar.
1. Cook From Scratch
Preparing your favorite baked goods or treats from scratch will allow you to control how much sugar is in the final product. You can also use higher-quality ingredients and whole grains to help stabilize your blood sugar.
2. Use Whole Sweeteners
While they are definitely still sugars, honey, maple syrup or coconut palm sugar or syrup tend to have a lower impact on blood sugar levels and contain some trace minerals and nutrients. Honey even contains prebiotic fiber, which is an excellent food for your gut microbes.
3. Balance Sweets with Protein, Fat and Fiber
One of the best ways to keep your blood sugar stable is to combine your carbohydrate-rich foods with protein, fat and fiber. These nutrients will slow stomach emptying and help to prevent spikes in post-meal sugar levels.
4. Add Cinnamon
Cinnamon and baking go hand-in-hand, and it may also help keep your blood sugar levels more stable after you eat a sweet treat. Try incorporating it into your sweets and baked goods for added benefits.
While there are no guarantees for cancer prevention, being smart about your sugar intake can help stack the deck in your favor and support your natural immune function.