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Scientists make breakthrough in linking sugar to cancer growth

WATCH: Is sugar the world’s most ubiquitous drug? – Jan 27, 2017

Scientists in Belgium have made a recent discovery that goes a long way to understanding how sugar affects cancer.

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In a paper published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers from VIB, a life sciences research institute, and Vrije University in Brussels found that a compound in sugar stimulates aggressive cancer cells and helps them to grow faster.

Led by Johan Thevelein, a microbiologist with VIB, this research builds on what scientists already knew about the Warburg effect, where cancer cells rapidly break down sugar for energy and to fuel for further growth.

“Cancer cells multiply faster than normal cells and require more energy, that’s why they need the rapid sugar breakdown,” Thevelein tells Global News. “We found a molecular connection: there’s an intermediate compound in the sugar pathway that acts as a direct activator of Ras, a cancer-causing protein. Our discovery reveals a vicious cycle where the Ras protein stimulates the sugar breakdown and the overactive sugar breakdown stimulates the Ras protein.”

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Basically, there’s now a direct link between sugar and the aggressiveness of cancer cells. But that doesn’t mean cutting sugar out of your diet will ensure you don’t get cancer.

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“We have no evidence of this effect happens in healthy people,” Thevelein says, nor does he say this research concludes that sugar will cause cancer. Rather, it could be beneficial to cancer patients to avoid consuming sugars like glucose and fructose, which are rapidly broken down by the body.

“Reducing sugar intake during cancer treatment might help the system to overcome the cancer and it might facilitate the action of chemotherapy because it’s difficult to kill the cancer cells if they’re always activated [by sugar],” he says. “Providing sugar to cancer cells carries a greater risk of stimulating their aggressiveness.”

READ MORE: The sweet lowdown: Is sugar the world’s most ubiquitous drug?

Starches would be a wiser food choice for people living with cancer, as they take longer to break down in the body and are less likely to feed the cancer cells.

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The Canadian Cancer Society advises people living with cancer to eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods, especially during treatment when the body requires energy. A healthy diet that’s rich in calories and protein can help decrease the risk of infection and assist the body in recovery from treatment.

It is advised that those going through treatment should eat smaller and more frequent meals, and to consume more protein like cheese, eggs, nuts, seeds and meat.


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