Sometimes in life we wish things had a simple yes or no answer. Especially with a substance as addictive as sugar. To make things just a little more complicated, are we talking about sugar in general? Granulated sugar like you use as sweetener? Sugar from fruit? Sugar from honey? All of these sugars act differently in our body.
Does Sugar Feed Cancer?
Let’s look at some of the ways sugar affects us.
Defining cancer risk from different types of sugar
- Granulated Sugar: granulated sugar can definitely increase cancer risk. Studies report that the equivalent of 7 – 9 teaspoons of sugar per day increased tumor growth in rats quite rapidly. The average American eats 9 – 10 teaspoons of sugar per day.
- Fruit: Studies have not shown an increase in cancer risk when eating whole pieces of fruit or even dried fruit.
- Fruit Juice and Sugary Drinks: While looking into the relationship between sugar and cancer, I was shocked by the risk that fruit juice played in cancer and diabetes risk. Did you know that in children, fruit juice has the same or worse diabetes risk than soda?!? When I read that study, I thought “Oh my gosh! What about all my patients who are doing all of these juices or trying to help reduce their cancer growth using juice fasting?” So, I’ve started to modify patients’ juice recipes by making sure that they’re not very high in fruit and they’re higher in vegetables. When creating your juices at home, it’s best to be aware of the connection between fruit juice and cancer risk.
- Honey: A fructose-based sweetener, many people ask me about the connection between honey and cancer. Studies looking at honey find that it is great at stimulating the immune system and natural killer cells. It’s actually being used as something to prevent cancer and reduce cancer growth, particularly in parts of New Zealand. In some indigenous cultures of Australia, honey is used as a cancer treatment.
Here’s what the research says so far
People who have elevated blood sugar levels for long periods of time have an increased risk of cancer. Does sugar feed cancer? There are definitive signs that say it can.
- Sugar has an indirect link to cancer growth and recurrence risk through insulin and Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1).
- IGF-1 is linked to breast, colon, and prostate cancer growth.
- Elevated insulin levels are a risk factor for cancer recurrence.
What you can do to know how you process sugar
What I recommend to my patients is that they get simple blood tests to see how their body is processing sugar and managing insulin. You can talk to your doctor to check these labs, too.
- Fasting blood glucose: the amount of sugar in your blood stream when you haven’t eaten for 12 hours.
- Fasting insulin: a hormone that regulates the amount of sugar in your blood, and helps sugar get to important tissues like your brain and muscles.
- Hemoglobin A1C: tests your average blood sugar levels over the past 3 months.
- IGF-1: a cancer growth factor that is stimulated by insulin.
Ways to manage blood sugar and insulin
One of the ways you can help your body process sugar better is with the use of diet, exercise, and naturopathic medicine. You can control your insulin response and reduce your risk of cancer recurrence.
- Diet: reduce and eliminate all refined sugar in your diet.
- Exercise: walking and weight lifting can help improve blood sugar management.
- Supplements and Herbs: gymnema, alpha lipoic acid, fish oil, and chromium are just a few of the natural therapies studied for supporting blood sugar regulation.
Does sugar feed cancer? Consuming too much sugar – or too much of anything for that matter – is unhealthy for many reasons. Cutting back on or eliminating sugar from your diet is just one step you can take towards staying or keeping cancer-free.