Yesterday we reviewed different types of sugar substitutes — natural sweeteners, artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, and novel sweeteners — and concluded that, at least for adults, they appear to be safe to use in moderation. Regarding the extensive scrutiny that synthetic artificial sweeteners have undergone in regard to cancer risks, we said:

In the 1970’s, saccharine earned a warning label after studies linked its use to bladder cancer. More recent research has found no such association with saccharine, or any other synthetic artificial sweeteners, and cancer, and so the warning label has since been removed. Furthermore, other studies have been unable to link any adverse health effects, including impacts on the immune system, to artificial sweeteners.

 

A new study, published this month in the journal Cancer Research, suggests it might be ordinary, natural table sugar, rather than its artificial alternatives, that are associated with cancer. Maggie Fox reviews the study showing that sugar, especially fructose, fuels the growth of breast cancer in mice:

These findings help explain what other researchers have seen looking at cancer patients in general: Those who eat more sugary foods are more likely to have advanced cancer.

Cohen’s team used mice for their study but say they took many steps to make sure the process was as close as possible to what happens in people. They fed sugar to the mice in doses very similar to what Americans eat every day, and they used mice that are genetically predisposed to breast cancer in much the same way that many people are.

They fed mice four different diets that were either heavy in starch or heavy in different types of sugar.

“A human study reported that dietary sucrose/fructose/glucose but not starch is associated with increased risk of breast cancer,” they wrote in their report.

When the mice were six months old, 30 percent of those fed a starch-dominant diet had breast cancer. But half the mice that had been fed extra sucrose had breast tumors. And the more sugar they were fed, the bigger the tumors grew.

 

Regular table sugar is sucrose, a complex sugar which is broken down by the body into two simple sugars: glucose and fructose. Previous studies suggest that both glucose and fructose are drivers of tumor growth, but this study found that fructose made the tumors grow faster and bigger than glucose. This, says Fox, may explain a lot about current cancer rates in the U.S.:

The implications for people are clear. Cohen notes that fructose consumption in the U.S. surged from about half a pound a person a year in 1970 to more than 62 pounds a year in 1997. That’s mainly due to the broad use of high fructose corn syrup.

 

High fructose corn syrup is one of the alternative sweeteners we discussed yesterday — considered a natural (but highly processed) sweetener because it is derived from corn. It is used as a sweetener in many different processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages, especially soft drinks.

Consider this: The U.S.D.A. recommends that adults consume no more that 10% of daily calories as sugar, or 6 teaspoons (30 grams) a day for women and 9 teaspoons (45 grams) a day for men. A single, 12-ounce can of soda has 10 teaspoons (50 grams) of sugar!

It’s time we begin to connect the dots between sugar and health. Pediatric research has already demonstrated that sugar is the main culprit driving the obesity epidemic in America. Obesity’s effect on health is clear: metabolic syndrome (hypertension, abnormal lipid profile, elevated fasting blood sugars), type 2 diabetes, heart disease, strokes, liver dysfunction (fatty liver), pulmonary insufficiency, and more. This study now points the finger directly at sugar as a toxic factor in the development and growth of cancer.

 

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