by Yeong Sek Yee
In early June 2006, our Minister of Health, Datuk Chua Soi Lek revealed that Malaysians consume 2½ times the ideal daily intake of sugar (STAR 14/6/06). Malaysians consume an average of 125 mg of sugar daily while the ideal daily intake was 50mg. Is this another Malaysian boleh situation?
According to Datuk Dr. Chua, “Malaysians are aware of the health hazards of consuming too much sugar. They just need to change their attitude now” But are Malaysians really aware of the multitude of ill health effects of sugar consumption which range from a suppressed immune system to damage to the pancreas, cause of diabetes, and that sugar has been connected with the development of cancer of the breast, ovaries, prostate, rectum, pancreas, biliary tract, lung, gallbladder and stomach?
If you wish to find out more about the ill health effects of sugar, read Dr. Nancy Appleton’s book “Lick the Sugar Habit” in which she lists 146 ways how sugar can ruin your health. Alternatively, a guide by the Consumer Association of Penang, “How Much Sugar is hidden in your Foods” is also very informative (available at all Popular Bookshops and priced at RM 5 only).
The literature on the ill effects of sugar consumption is enormous. This article will only concentrate on two main points pertaining to cancer i.e. whether sugar is a risk factor in the development of cancer and whether sugar feeds cancer cells or promotes tumour growth
If Malaysians are aware of the above two facts, then perhaps Malaysia would not have experienced a sugar shortage over the past few months.
a) SUGAR – IS IT A CANCER RISK FACTOR?
Researchers have been able to link processed, refined starches and sugars to increased risk of breast, colorectal, pancreatic and stomach cancers. A diet high in sugar contributes to cancer development by elevating insulin levels, creating a toxic burden and negatively impacting one’s immunity.
1. Sugar elevates insulin levels
Tumours, just like normal cells prefer carbohydrates as their main source of energy. When you eat sweets, your blood sugar rises rapidly. In response to all this sugar in your blood, the insulin hormone is released by the pancreas. Insulin helps cells to use the sugar as energy and brings blood sugar levels back to normal. When you eat too much sugar, a large amount of insulin is produced and circulates in the blood. High insulin levels cause pre-cancerous cells to gobble up sugar, accelerating their growth into fully formed cancer cells
2. Sugar creates a toxic burden
Eating sugary foods, which have a tendency to be low in fiber slows the movement of the GI tract and contributes to constipation. High sugar diets also increases production of secondary bile acids. These carcinogenic compounds contribute to a toxic GI environment and have been linked to colorectal cancer.
3. Sugar negatively impacts immunity
Elevated insulin levels slow the release of growth hormones, which in turn reduce white blood cell production.
Are there research/scientific studies conducted to show that sugar consumption can lead to cancer development? Yes. In 1938, a researcher by the name of N Dakizawa did research (“The Occurrence of Subcutaneous Carcinomas in the Rat after Repeated Injections of the Glucose Solution.” Gann 32:324,1938) in which he created carcinomas in a mouse by prolonged subcuteaneous injections of glucose solutions.
The following are the conclusions of some more recent scientific studies which shows that sugar in its various forms is a risk factor in the development of various cancers:
1) Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Jan 12,2005.
The above issue published a joint study by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea. In this joint study, researchers found that elevated blood sugar levels and diabetes are risk factors for developing several types of cancers and increased the risk of dying from cancers of the pancreas and liver, and several other malignancies. For those without diabetes, cancer risk increased with an increasing fasting blood sugar.
The study also found that cancer incidence rates also went up as glucose levels rose. Once blood sugar levels rose over 110mg/dl,cancer incidence rose for leukemia, and cancers of the esophagus, larynx, stomach, colon, rectum, liver bile duct, pancreas, lung, prostate, kidney, bladder and brain … the study found.
2) Diet and Breast Cancer: the possible connection with sugar consumption,by Seely S, Horrobin DF and published in Medical Hypotheses,1983 July;11(3):319-327
The paper presented an epidemiological study of breast cancer mortality in relation to food consumption. In older women, a strong correlation was found between breast cancer mortality and sugar consumption. A possible connecting link between sugar consumption and breast cancer is insulin. Insulin secretion occurs in response to blood glucose level and could be excessive if the regulatory mechanism is overtaxed by large sugar intake.
3) Sugar Consumption and human cancer in sites other than the digestive tract by Burley VJ, from Nuffield Institute of Health, University of Leeds, UK and published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention,1998 Aug;7(4):253-77.
In order to assess the relationship between dietary intake of sugar and cancer, a comprehensive search of the scientific literature was undertaken by the above … for breast cancer, … the data on international per capita sugar intakes suggest a consistent positive correlation with breast cancer and mortality rates…
4) Dietary sugar and Lung cancer: a case-control study in Uruguay by DE Stefani et al., in NutrCancer 1998; 31(2):132-7.
The study, commissioned by the Registro Nacional de Cancer,Montevideo, Uruguay, examined whether dietary sugar modifies lung cancer risk, a case control study involving 463 cases with lung cancer and 465 hospitalised controls was conducted in Uruguay in the period 1993- 1996 … the study suggests that high sucrose intake could be an important risk factor in lung carcinogenesis.
5) Diet and Gastric cancer-a case control study in Belgium by Tuyus AJ et al.,International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France and published inInternational Journal of Cancer 1992 April 22; 51(1):1-6.
A case control study was carried out in 2 Belgian provinces with contrasting gastric cancer mortality…and concluded that added sugar also increased the risk of gastric cancer.
6) Dietary sugar intake in the aetiology of biliary tract cancer by Moerman CJ, et al.from the Dept of Epidemiology, National Institute of Public Health and Environmental Protection, Bilthovan, The Netherlands and published in the International Journal of Epidemiology 1993 April; 22 (2):207-14.
Between 1984 and 1988,a case control study of 111 cases of biliary tract cancer and 480 controls from the general population was conducted…..A biological explanation for the fact that the intake of sugars may be a risk factor for biliary tract cancer might be based on the relationships between sugar, blood lipids and gallstone formation.
7) Dietary sugar and colon cancer by Slattery ML,et.al., of the Dept. of Oncological Sciences, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, USA and published in Cancer Epidemiological Biomarkers Prevention 1997 Sept: 6(9):677-85.
The above study concluded that dietary sugars, especially high in simple carbohydrates are associated with increased risk of colon cancer … and that diets high in simple sugars increase the risk of colon cancer because of their impact on these factors. High levels of sucrose intake were associated with increased risk of colon cancer among younger men
8) Nutrients and food groups and large bowel cancer in Europe by Franceschi S. from Servizio de Epidemiologia,Centrodi Riferimento Oncologico,Aviano, Italy and published in European Journal of Cancer Prevention 1999 Dec;8 Suppl 1: S49-52.
The study concluded that … significant trends of increasing colorectal cancer risk with increasing intake emerged for bread and pasta, cakes and deserts, and refined sugar … total energy intake was directly associated with colorectal cancer.
9) Dietary sugar, glycemic load, and pancreatic cancer risk in a prospective studyMichaud DS, etal., from Nutritional Epidemiology Branch, Division of CancerEpidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, USA and published in National Cancer Institute 2002 Sept 4; 94(17):1293-300.
Evidence from both animal and human studies suggests that abnormal glucose metabolism plays an important role in pancreatic carcinogenesis. Foods that prompt the body to produce large amounts of insulin should be associated with a greater occurrence of the disease … glucose, a sugar that is a main energy source for cells.
10) Sugar sweetened soft drinks consumption and the risk of Pancreatic cancer inprospective cohorts by Eva Schernhammer, et al., from Harvard Medical and various cancer institutions and published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention 14: 2098-2105 Sept 2005.
A history of diabetes mellitus and a diet high in glycemic load are both potential risk factors for pancreatic cancer…..consumption of sugar sweetened soft drinks may be associated with a modest but significant increase in risk among women who have an underlying degree of insulin resistance.
11) Sugar consumption linked to breast cancer risk by Dr Tavani A., from Institut di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri, Milan and published in Annals of Oncology 30 January 2006.
In the study, participants were asked about how frequently they consumed desserts, such as biscuits, cakes, ice cream, as well as refined sugar, honey, jam and chocolate and other items containing sugar … Dr. Tavani and team concluded … sugar consumption was directly associated to breast cancer risk.
12) American Cancer Society (ACS) Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention.
In the revised guidelines of 2002, the ACS addressed the issue whether sugar increase cancer risk. Sugar increases caloric intake without providing any of the nutrients that reduce cancer risk. By promoting obesity and elevating insulin levels, high sugar intake may increase cancer risk. White (refined) sugar is no different from brown (unrefined) sugar or honey with regard to these effects on body weight or insulin.
13) The University or Colorado Cancer Center, USA
In an article written by Ms. Colleen Gill, MS.RD., Chief Dietician with the University of Colorado Hospital Center for Integrative Medicine … “Fighting Breast Cancer with a Fork”, she mentioned that the consumption of sweets and other carbohydrates that raise blood sugars and, thus insulin levels in the blood has been tied to an increase risk of breast cancer … Insulin, as a marker of “feast” or excess calories, stimulates growth and cancer cells may have many more receptors that can pick up this signal. Website: www.uccc-info/cancercenter/content/breast
14) Cancer and Nutrition by Dr David Heber, MD, Ph.D., Harvard MedicalSchool
Dr Heber wrote this primer on Cancer and Nutrition in 1986 when he was Head of the Division of Clinical Nutrition, University of California, LA. So, as far back as 20 years ago, it is widely known that a diet high in sugar is linked to increased risk for developing cancer of the breast and bowel … the sugar might exert an independent effect on the incidence of cancer.
15) Return To Wholeness by Dr David Simon, MD.
Dr Simon, Medical Director of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing and formerly Chief of Staff at the Sharp Cabrillo Hospital at San Diego, echoes Dr David Heber’s statement that “higher intake of refined and processed dietary sugar has been associated with increased risks of breast and colon cancer”.
b) SUGAR-DOES IT FEED CANCER CELLS?
More than 70 years ago, Dr. Otto Warburg, PhD, won the Nobel Prize in medicine when he discovered that cancer cells require glucose (sugar) for growth. All cells have a requirement for glucose, but cancer cells consume as much as 4 to 5 times more glucose than normal, healthy cells. In fact they are unable to multiply rapidly without it.
Perhaps the best illustration of the above fact is the use of Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans which are now being used to determine to what extent the cancer may have spread to other parts of the body. PET scans use radioactively labeled sugar to find rapidly growing cells within the body. Because cancer cells grow faster than regular cells, the cancer cells will attract and eat up the radiotracer’s sugar. If the scan shows that there is a lot of glucose in one area, that can be a sign that a tumour is present.
Next, let us look at some of the literature on sugar which specifically mentioned that sugar is a cancer feeder. These are extracts from publications written by medical doctors, nutritionists, cancer researchers and cancer survivors themselves.
16) Natural Strategies for Cancer Patients by Dr Russell Blaylock, MD
Dr Blaylock, a Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery at the Medical University of Mississippi advised all cancer patients to avoid sugar, no matter what the source. Honey is sugar—even though there are a few flavonoids included, but it is still sugar and can be used by the cancer. Fructose, while it does not promote insulin release, is not a good choice. For one thing it increases the free radical damage to cells, thereby increasing the risk of cancer.
Cancer cells have a voracious appetite for sugar (glucose),and feeding a cancer patient a high sugar diet could increase the growth and spread of the cancer. Fruits are generally discouraged on the anticancer diet, despite the fact that they contain some very powerful anticancer and antioxidants flavonoids. They should especially be avoided by patients already having metastasis. Patients without metastasis can enjoy fruits with a low sugar content, such as strawberries, raspberries, and grapefruit, but only in limited amounts.
17) Waking the Warrior Goddess – How to Protect against and Fight Breast Cancer by Dr Christine Horner, MD., FACS.
Dr Horner, a US board certified surgeon, described sugar as breast cancer’s favourite food and the following are the distressing facts about sugar and cancer:
a) Cancer cells love sugar. It’s their preferred fuel. The more sugar you eat, the faster cancer cells grow. Your pancreas responds to sugar by releasing insulin, the hormone that escorts sugar into your cells. When you eat refined simple sugars, such as white sugar, candies, cookies, or other sugar laden foods, your blood sugar levels rise very quickly. Your pancreas responds by releasing a lot of insulin. That’s not good. High insulin levels are one of the biggest risk factors that promote breast cancer. Women with high insulin levels have a 283 % greater risk of breast cancer
b) Insulin is capable of extraordinary evil, and the biggest reason is due to the fact that both breast cells and cancer cells have insulin receptors on them. When insulin attaches to its receptors, it has the same effect as when estrogen attaches to its receptors: it causes cells to start dividing. The higher your insulin levels are, the faster your breast cells will divide; the faster they divide, the higher your risk of breast cancer is and the faster any existing cancer cells will grow.
c) In addition, insulin also attacks a portion of the estrogen cycle, making more estrogen available to attach to the estrogen receptors in breast tissue. Insulin regulates how much of the estrogen in your blood is available to attach to estrogen receptors. When estrogen travels in the blood, it either travels alone seeking a mate(an estrogen receptor) or it travels with a partner( a protein binder or carrier) that prevents it from attaching to an estrogen receptor. Insulin regulates the number of protein binders in the blood. So, the higher your insulin levels are, the fewer the number of protein binders there will be. Fewer protein binders means that there’s more free estrogen available to attach to estrogen receptors. In other words, when your insulin levels are up, free estrogen levels are up too. And both of them speed up cell division. That’s why high insulin levels increase the risk of breast cancer so much..
d) Eating sugar delivers a major blow to your immune system. Research shows that right after you eat a high sugar meal, the function of the cells in your immune system drops drastically—by at least 50%
18) Reversing Cancer- A Journey From Cancer to Cure by Dr Gerald H. Smith, MD.
Dr Smith, a biological dentist, researched and wrote this book after conventional treatments could not help his wife who had breast cancer in 1997 and subsequently spread to the ovaries.
In describing the nature of cancer cells, Dr Gerald mentioned that cancer metabolises through a process of fermentation (production of lactic acid from the breakdown of sugar) It is a disease that is metabolic in origin, a disease that is linked with our utilization of devitalized and chemicalised foods. The metabolism of cancer cells is approximately 8 times greater than the metabolism of normal cells. Because of the high rate of metabolism, the cancer is constantly on the verge of starvation and thus constantly asks the body to feed it. When the food supply is cut off, the cancer begins to starve unless it can make the body produce sugar to feed itself. In its infinite wisdom, the body starts glycogenesis (producing sugar from the breakdown of protein) Knowing that cancer needs sugar,does it make sense to feed it sugar? Does it make sense to have a high carbohydrate diet?
In part, food therapies have their successes because someone once saw the connection between sugar and cancer. There are many food therapies, but not a single one allows many foods high in carbohydrates and not a single one allows sugars, because SUGAR FEEDS CANCER.
19) How to Prevent and Treat Cancer with Natural Medicine by Dr Michael Murray, MD., and 3 other authors.
All the authors of the above book are medical doctors who have written the most authoritative works on natural medicine. According to them, high sugar diets are associated with increased of breast, colorectal, biliary and pancreatic cancers. And too much insulin, as it turns out, can promote the growth of certain kinds of cancer cells, including breast, stomach, colon, endometrial, ovarian, lung and prostate cancer. High insulin levels may be the best predictor of whether a woman’s breast cancer returns after treatment,since high insulin levels increase the risk of recurrence and death by at least eightfold.
20) Beating Cancer with Natural Medicine by Dr. Michael Lam MD.
Dr Lam is a western trained medical doctor whose clinical practice in natural medicine has helped many overcome and prevent cancer. According to Dr. Lam, it is important to starve the cancer…a diet rich in sugar will promote cancer cell growth and reduce our immune function. Website:www.drlam.com
21) What You Don’t Know May Be Killing You by Dr Don Colbert, M D.
Dr Colbert, a board certified medical doctor who specialized in nutritional medicine, described sugar as … a dead food together with white flour, meat and dairy products. Sugar consumption is positively associated with cancer in humans and in test animals… tumours are known to be enormous sugar absorbers.
22) The Prostate Cancer Research Institute (PCRI)
In an article “ Can Diet Really Control Prostrate Cancer?” by Dr Mark Scholz, MD and Dr Ralph Blum, MD. in PCRI Insights, February 2006,Vol 9, No 1, they mentioned that “there is a direct connection between low blood sugar levels and retarded cancer growth”. We should not be surprised that suppressed blood sugar levels could have a major impact on cancer growth.
First, sugar(glucose) is like gasoline, fueling all the cells in the body. Cancer cells divide rapidly and therefore are greedy for sugar, because it is necessary for their growth. This fact is dramatically illustrated by Positron Emission Tomography, or PET Scan. The PET Scan uses radioactive sugar injected into the blood stream to locate tumours through the body. PET scans can so effectively pinpoint growing, active groups of cancer cells, that within a matter of minutes, the areas of high sugar uptake can be clearly seen in the scan images.
Cancer cells require dramatically more glucose to survive and proliferatethan normal cells. This is because cancer cells run on a primitive energy metabolism called anaerobic glycolysis that burns sugar without oxygen. Oxygen metabolism(aerobic glycolysis) allows the healthy cells of the body to extract many more molecules of energy from glucose than with anaerobic glycolysis. In other words, the cancer cells demand for glucose is enormous.
23) Cancer and Natural Medicine by Dr John Boik, Ph D.
Dr Boik is a cancer researcher at MD Anderson Hospital of Texas and his comments on sugar is very clear.
Sucrose intake has been associated with increased risk of colon cancer in humans and animals… sucrose directly affects colon cell proliferation. Two possible mechanisms by which sugar may increase tumour cell proliferation are by increasing blood glucose levels, and by increasing insulin secretion. Glucose is the preferred source of energy for tumour cells. Hyperglycemia(high blood sugar)appears to be common in cancer patients, with incidence reported as high as 60%.
Dietary sugar intake may further increase hyperglycemia and may stimulatetumour proliferation by providing additional glucose. A hyperglycemic state causes secretion of additional insulin…cancer-promoting effects of insulin have been observed in animal cell lines and in human breast cancer cells…elevated insulin may activate dormant cancer cells or stimulate the growth of existing tumors… sucrose, glucose, fructose, … all increase insulin secretion. Ingestion of even moderate levels of sucrose or glucose have been shown to inhibit neutrophil and lymphocyte activity (i.e. it depresses the immune system).
24) Unique Glucose Dependent Apoptotic Pathway induced by CMYC by Dr Dang, CV. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 1998;95:1511-1516.
Dr Chi Van Dang, MD, PhD., a director of hematology at John Hopkins found evidence that some cancer cells are such incredible sugar junkies that they will self destruct when deprived of glucose, their biological sweet of choice. According to Dr Dang “the change when we took away glucose was dramatic…by the next day, we knew very quickly that the cells we had altered to resemble cancers were dying off in large numbers.”
25) Medical Hypotheses-Oct 2001(57:4,429-431)
In the above medical journal, cancer scientist Dr Angelo P. John explained the biological reasons that most cancer cells must rely almost exclusively upon the glucose derived from carbohydrate foods as their major supply of nutrients. Dr John’s discovery that cancer cells have defective mitochondria and must therefore depend largely upon glycolysis (dissolution of sugar) and glucose for nutrition will dramatically impact the future treatment of cancer… Mitochandria — are often called the powerhouse of the cell because they are the site where sugar is broken down to release the energy required for cellular functions.
26) The Cancer Nutrition Information, LLC
According to Suzanne Dixon, MS,RD (a registered dietician and epidemiologist)… there is a grain of truth to the concept that cancer cells love sugar but it is the hormone insulin that promotes cell growth. In other words insulin encourages cells to grow, divide and store glucose as energy. In simple terms, insulin generally revs up cell growth. Many types of cancer cells contain plenty of insulin receptors. This means that if you have more insulin in the body, these cells grow and respond more. Clearly, this is not a good thing with cancer cells. Eating a lot of sugar causes the body to produce other hormones that encourage cell growth, such as the insulin-like growth factor (IGF). Website: http://www.cancernutritioninfo.com
27) The Food Connection—The Right Food at the Right Time by Dr Sam Graci,PhD
Dr Sam Graci is a lecturer and researcher in human nutrition. In the book, he mentioned that … cancer cells love sugar and use more of it than normal cells do. Cancer cells force the liver to produce more and more glucose for them from stored glycogen; this process triggers the breakdown of fat and muscle cells. Avoid refined white table sugar … the refining process involves the use of potentially mutagenic chemicals … there is evidence that sugar inhibit the immune function.
28) Beating Cancer with Nutrition by Dr Patrick Quillin, PhD, RD, CNS.
Dr Quillin was the Director of Nutrition for the Cancer Treatment Centers of America and he very clearly describe tumours as primarily obligate glucoseetabolisers, meaning “sugar feeders” .Cancer cells feed directly on bloodglucose, like a fermenting yeast organism and primarily use glucose for fuel, with lactic acid as a anaerobic by-product, thus generating a lower pH, fatigue(lactic acid build up) and enlarged liver. Elevating blood glucose in a cancer patient is like throwing gasoline on a smoldering fire. Hence, cancer therapies need to take into consideration the importance of regulating blood glucose levels via diet (glycemic index). In conclusion, Dr Quillin commented that “ I have yet to see a patient beat cancer who is not serious about controlling blood glucose through diet.”
29) The Hallelujah Diet by Rev George Malkmus
In 1976, at the age of 42, Rev Malkmus was diagnosed with colon cancer….but instead of pursuing the medical route, he chose a vegetarian diet, composed largely of raw vegetables and fruits. He described sugar as one of the 5 white foods that are extremely harmful to the body(the other 4 are meat, dairy, salt and white flour).On sugar, he said that … it is so changed from its original plant form…that it is actually a drug! Just 10 teaspoons (approx. the amount in one soft drink) will immobilize the immune system by about 35% malignant tumours are mainly sugar feeders … cancer cells are principally fuelled by blood sugar, rather than by fats or proteins, and tumours have abnormal energy requirement, which resemble a primitive yeast organism in fermenting sugar.
NB: Rev. Malkmus is still alive today…to learn more about him and his healing ministry. Website: www.hacres.com
30) The Choice by Bernadette Bohan
Bernadette Bohan was diagnosed with lymphoma at the age of 33 and despite normal conventional treatments, she developed a malignant lump in her breast. She advocates clean healthy food and she specifically mentioned that …”all cancers love sugar-so it’s simple: don’t give it to them …I would not put unleaded petrol in a car designed for diesel.”
With all the above facts in mind, we hope you will take cognizance of the fact that sugar (just like meat and other harmful foods) is certainly a food item you must avoid at all costs especially when you are on a healing journey with cancer. It just does not make sense to spend your life savings to try to overcome the cancer in you but at the same time fuel it’s growth with it’s preferred food.
Undoubtedly, there may be sceptics in our midst who do not believe that sugar is a cancer risk factor or that sugar feeds cancer cells. To these people, we urge you to read and find out more from other sources(other than your doctor) such as books by nutritionists, cancer scientists and the Internet(just type in Sugar and Cancer on any search engine)You will definitely be astonished.
WE WISH YOU LUCK IN YOUR HEALING JOURNEY