The Sugar-Cancer relationship

Me: Grandma, I want to take pap. Mary said there is no sugar at home. Grandma: I don't buy sugar at home. You should know this. Me: But the pap is sour... Grandma: Darling, you see, sugar causes cancer. I mean, even all these soft drinks, which is why you can't find them in this house. Sugar is really terrible, my dear...

This is what I hear everytime the word 'Sugar' comes up at home. I am sure quite a few of you have heard something of such at one time or the other. So, here we are!

Cancer refers to a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. Possible signs and symptoms include a lump, abnormal bleeding, prolonged cough, unexplained weight loss, and a change in bowel movements. The form of sugar most of us are familiar with is table sugar (sucrose), which is a simple sugar that dissolves in water and gives things a sweet taste. It is made up of crystals of glucose and fructose.

Table sugar is refined, meaning it has been processed to extract it from a natural source (usually sugar beet). Unprocessed foods can be high in simple sugars too, for example honey (also made mostly of glucose and fructose) is nearly pure sugar. As chains of sugar get longer, they lose their sweet taste and won’t dissolve in water anymore. These chains are called polysaccharides and form a large component of starchy foods. Starchy foods such as rice, bread, pasta and vegetables like potatoes might not taste sweet, but they are high in carbohydrate too.

All cells require glucose as source of energy to perform their tasks, therefore cutting out all glucose source may lead to the healthy cells not getting energy, this is very dangerous. Cutting out sugar doesn’t help treat cancer, and sugar doesn’t directly cause cancer. Why then are people advised to cut down their sugar intake?

That’s because there is an indirect link between cancer risk and sugar. Cancer cells usually grow quickly, multiplying at a fast rate, which takes a lot of energy. This means they need lots of glucose. Cancer cells also need lots of other nutrients too, such as amino acids and fats; it’s not just sugar they crave.

Here’s where the myth that sugar fuels cancer was born: if cancer cells need lots of glucose, then cutting sugar out of our diet must help stop cancer growing, and could even stop it developing in the first place. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. All our healthy cells need glucose too, and there’s no way of telling our bodies to let healthy cells have the glucose they need, but not give it to cancer cells.

All the same, since the mechanism which allows sugar to be supplied to healthy cells and not cancerous cells has not been developed, we might want to reduce the risk of having cancer by digesting the following:


All cells like sugar but cancer cells love sugar!  Cancer cells uptake sugar at 10-12 times the rate of healthy cells.  In fact, that is the basis of PET (positron emission tomography) scans -- one of the most accurate tools for detecting cancer growth.   PET scans use radioactively labeled glucose to detect sugar-hungry tumor cells.  When patients drink the sugar water, it gets preferentially taken up into the cancer cells and they light up!


Cancers have been found to thrive in acidic environment. Sugar is highly acidic.  With a pH of about 6.4, it is 10 times more acidic than the ideal alkaline pH of blood at 7.4.


Sugar suppresses a key immune response known as phagocytosis – the Pac-Man effect of the immune system.  Consuming 10 teaspoons of sugar can cause about a 50% reduction in phagocytosis.   Considering the sugar in your cereal, the syrup on your waffles and pancakes, the sugar added to your morning coffee or tea, the sugar in cold beverages like iced tea or lemonade, the High-Fructose corn syrup in prepared foods, salad dressing and ketchup, and of course sugary snacks and desserts, it is so easy to suppress your immune systems significantly. Not only the amount of sugar, but also the frequency of ingesting sugar is relevant to immune function.


In most people, when sugar in any form is consumed, the pancreas releases insulin.  Breast tissue, for example, contains insulin receptors, and insulin is a powerful stimulant of cell growth.  One group of Australian researchers concluded that high levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF) may actually be causative of cancers of the breast, prostate, endometrium and pancreas. Sugar intake was associated with more than double the cancer risk.

5- Obesity

Eating lots of sugar over time can cause you to gain weight, and robust scientific evidence shows that being overweight or obese increases the risk of 13 different types of cancer. These include esophageal, pancreatic, kidney, gallbladder, breast and colorectal cancer. In fact, obesity is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking.

Sugar Substitutes Good sugar substitutes are stevia (an all-natural herb from South America), barley malt, rice syrup, and palm sugar.  Even high-glycemic sweeteners like Sucanat, evaporated cane juice, molasses, honey and pure maple syrup are nutritionally superior to refined table sugar or High-fructose corn syrup.

Stay healthy!


Writer at The Healthwise...daily health tips