Sugar plays an important role in causing, detecting and understanding a cancer’s behaviour.
Cells which have begun growing at an abnormal speed and in an uncontrollable manner are defined as ‘cancerous cells’. They tend to take up all the nutrients of the body and can be referred to as a ‘disease of the cells’.
Link Between Glucose & Cancer Cells
We know that cancer cells grow quickly and multiply at a fast rate so they tend to take up a lot of energy. This means they need a lot of glucose, which is the basic fuel that powers every single cell in our bodies.
Apart from glucose, cancer cells also need a lot of other nutrients, such as amino acids and fats.
There is no way in which the body can direct the glucose only to the healthy cells and not to the cancer cells. So following a ‘sugar-free diet’ is NOT the answer to preventing or surviving cancer.
The reason that people are advised to cut down the sugar from their diet is because it leads to obesity which puts a person at a risk for 13 different types of cancer (breast, colon, womb, kidney, pancreas, oesophagus etc.).
In fact, obesity is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking.
How Do Blood Sugar Levels Affect Cancer?
People who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk of cancer.
There is a direct link between sugar in the blood, insulin production and cancer cell formation. High blood sugar and insulin resistance lead to the following:
- Formation of cancer cells (oncogenesis),
- Resistance to cell death in cancer cells (apoptosis resistance) &
- Tumours becoming resistant to chemotherapy
Cancer cells have several insulin receptors which make them respond more actively (than the other cells) to insulin’s ability to promote growth.
Is Cutting Down Carbs a Solution to Battle Cancer?
Avoiding all carbohydrates is not an effective solution to battling cancer. It only leads to stress which triggers off the flight or fight response in our bodies.
This ultimately leads to the production of hormones that can raise blood sugar levels and suppresses the immune function thereby encouraging the growth of the cancer cells.
Foods that Can Lower the Risk of Cancer
Sugars that are found in fruits and dairy products are called natural sugars and constitute a healthy diet.
Added sugars – white sugar, corn syrup, and fruit juice concentrate – should be avoided or limited.
One should balance their diet with plant foods, fish, and whole grains – parts of a healthy diet that have been linked to a lower risk of cancer.
Sugar Doesn’t Cause Cancer But…
Extensive consumption of sugar can lead to obesity which increases a person’s chances of cancer.
Sugar doesn’t cause cancer itself, and there is no way to starve cancer cells of glucose without harming the healthy cells too.
There is also no evidence that adopting a diet very low in carbohydrates will lower the cancer risk or help as a treatment.
In fact for cancer patients, it is important to get adequate nutrition in order to help the body cope with the treatment.
Yes, the relationship between sugar and cancer is complicated. The only way to approach this sugar and cancer conundrum is to lead a balanced lifestyle.
(Dr Kabir Rehmani is a Senior Consultant, Surgical Oncology, at Fortis Hospital in Noida.)