Not only is this a common question but it is also an assumption among people that eating foods containing any form of sugar is going to feed cancer. Family members, friends, acquaintances and others are telling people with cancer to completely avoid sugar. So does sugar feed cancer? This isn’t a simple question.
‘Every cell in the body requires glucose for fuel, including cancer cells’
Any form of sugar that we eat is converted into glucose in the body. Our body needs glucose for energy with every cell requiring glucose to live, including cancer cells and especially the brain.
Our body gets glucose/sugar from two sources. One source is the carbohydrates that we eat, be it complex or simple carbohydrates. The other source is made in the body when we don’t get the glucose we need from food.
Therefore, if not enough carbohydrates is eaten to provide sufficient amounts of glucose then our body uses protein and fat stores to make its own glucose. This is not an ideal situation for the body to be in because the body will go into a stressful state. The continuous use of protein and fat stores for fuel results in the development of a poor nutritional status. Complications of this include:
- Muscle wasting,
- Lowered immune system and increased risk of infections,
- Loss of strength and energy,
- Poor wound healing,
- Poor treatment tolerance,
- Increased risk of solid tutor relapse.
What About Cancer Cells?
So there is a certain amount of carbohydrates that we need to take in for healthy cell function. Cancer cells use glucose/sugar for energy just like the rest of the cells in the body. Cancer cells do however have a higher metabolic rate then normal healthy cells so they will use glucose at a faster rate.
Completely eliminating dietary sources of glucose/sugar has not been proven to slow the growth of tumours. It puts the body under more stress to provide the glucose it needs to function and impacts nutritional status.
For people going through treatment, remember that your healthy cells need energy particularly at this time. Dietary glucose/sugar is important to provide healthy cells with enough energy and not leave them low on fuel.
Sugar & Insulin
When we eat foods containing carbohydrates, the stomach converts the carbohydrates into glucose which get absorbed into the blood. The pancreas then produces insulin. Insulin’s job is to carry the glucose from the blood into the cells in the body. The glucose is used by the cells as fuel.
This process is normal and essential. But, high amounts of glucose/sugar in the blood will mean there will be a lot of insulin produced. Insulin is a growth hormone which will increase cell growth. The idea that high insulin levels will increase cancer cell growth does not have enough research to be confirmed, and the relationship between cancer and insulin is not fully understood. What we do know is that too much sugar and high production of insulin is not good for our health in general.
The bottom line is that sugar/glucose will feed cancer cells, but it also provides healthy cells with fuel. We need energy, so consider the types of food that we get our glucose from and the amount that we eat. My next post will be on the various sources of glucose/sugar and which would be the healthiest choice.