By: Amal Elali
Sugar is a sweet-tasting crystalline structure used in various foods and drinks . It comes from numerous plant sources, but the benefits of sugar are little to none. When sugar is consumed, it is broken down into simple sugars called glucose and fructose. The human body can both produce and use glucose as an energy source. On the other hand, fructose lacks benefits . The human body does not need fructose, and too much fructose can be harmful to the liver. Overloading the liver with fructose is only the start of many problems associated with the consumption of large amounts of sugar.
Many people assume that consuming an excessive amount of sugar can be deadly and can lead to incurable diseases such as cancer. Although sugar is harmful in the sense that it can be the direct cause of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, it does not seem to directly cause cancer . Dr. Chi Dang from the John Hopkins School of Medicine has been researching the connection between sugar and cancer. Dr. Dang states that “classical biochemical studies showed that tumors have altered metabolic profiles and display high rates of glucose uptake” . Nevertheless, there is no direct link between sugar and cancer. So how does the metabolic profile of tumors affect cancer?
As stated above, sugar is known to directly cause diseases such as obesity . As the human body becomes more obese, the risk for diabetes increases because as the body gains weight, and a chemical signal is released to stop the production of insulin. As insulin resistance increases, the concentration of sugar in the blood also increases, thus resulting in diabetes. Patients diagnosed with obesity and diabetes have a higher risk of getting cancer, specifically esophageal cancer .
Pre-cancerous cells that line the esophagus thrive on the consumption of sugar. As a result, the higher the percentage of glucose in the body, the more aggressive these tumor cells will be . Cancer cells that reside in the esophagus rely heavily on the consumption of sugar as their energy source, which means that as the body consumes more and more sugar, the tumors continue to have an endless supply of nutrients to help them grow . Does this mean that, if someone stops eating sugar, the tumor will die? Not necessarily. Cancer cells are normal cells that have mutated to bypass the cell regulatory system . When a cell divides it oftentimes has three checkpoints. If the cell is properly growing, it will continue on into the cell cycle. However, if the cell has an error of some sort, the error may be resolved so that the cell cycle may continue; or if the error is not corrected, the cell exits the cycle and dies. Cancer cells are able to avoid these signals . Even if the cell is growing at dangerous rates, the body has no control and the cell will continue to flourish. When the cell undergoes mitosis, cancer cells will continue to cultivate and accumulate into a tumor.
Since cancer cells rely heavily on sugar for their growth, the lack of sugar in the body will deprive them of nutrients and cause them to shrivel . Normal cells rely on glucose for nutrients as well, but a lack of sugar will only force the normal cells to utilize a different nutrient source. This can outsmart the tumor cells since they lack the ability to use fats or proteins as nutrient sources. As the normal cells use different macromolecules for nutrition, the cancer cells will have nothing and thus they will go into apoptosis or cell death. Once cancer cells goes into apoptosis, the size of the tumor decreases proportionately. Although the decreased consumption of sugar may not kill the tumor entirely, decreasing the size of the tumor is beneficial. A smaller tumor increases the range of motion for surgeons during removal surgery--meaning that the smaller the growth of a tumor, the less likely it is that it will spread to other areas or interfere with the activities of the body . For example, a large brain tumor increases the pressure built up in the brain and may result in seizures.
When it comes to food, staying away from sugar is best since it can lead to various health problems . One disease will lead to another (for example, obesity leads to diabetes), and a domino effect is created. Although sugar is not the direct cause of all cancers, research has found a direct link between sugar consumption and esophageal cancer, and an indirect link with others . Cancer is incurable, so prevention is key. Although there is nothing that can completely guarantee a cancer-free life, eating healthily and avoiding excess sugar is essential to a healthy lifestyle.
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