Sugar is bad–that’s no surprise. It makes you fat, fogs your brain, poorly affects your liver, kidneys, pancreas and wide range of other organs and systems. But as we continue to study the relatively new and exciting science of epigenetics (the study of how genes are switched on and off), we’re finding more and more how scary sugar really is.
A Madrid-based research team has determined that prolonged levels of high blood sugar “increase the activity of a gene widely implicated in cancer progression.”
What They Found: While it is well accepted that sugar plays a dangerous role in the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes, sugar’s relationship to cancer has been far less clear up to this point.
The team of scientists, led by Dr. Custodia Garcia Jimenez at Madrid’s University Rey Juan Carlos, was analyzing the relationship between sugar in the intestine and the release of insulin by the pancreas. They found that, when excess sugar causes the intestine to release the hormone GIP, it simultaneously increases the activity of a protein that can transform normal, healthy cells into immortal, cancerous cells. This protein is known as beta-catenin.
How it Happens: Excess sugar triggers a harmful, three-part chain reaction:
- First, excess sugar (table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, etc.) works its way into the intestine.
- To regulate the level of sugar in the blood, the intestine releases the hormone GIP to instruct the pancreas to produce insulin.
- Beta-catenin, which “strictly” relies on sugar levels, regulates the intestine’s production of GIP. As sugar levels increase, so does the activity of beta-catenin.
Simply, a sustained high blood sugar level increases the activity of a mechanism that helps cancer progress.
“We were surprised to realize that changes in our metabolism caused by dietary sugar impact on our cancer risk,” Dr. Garcia Jimenez told the Science Daily. “We are now investigating what other dietary components may influence our cancer risk. Changing diet is one of easiest prevention strategies that can potentially save a lot of suffering and money.”
What We Already Knew: For more than a decade, beta-catenin mutations have been linked to the progression of several types of cancer, including ovarian, prostate and colon cancer. Similarly, sugar has been shown to suppress immune function, increase inflammation and actually fuel viruses, bacteria and cancers. Cancerous cells actually have eight times more sugar receptors than oxygen receptors (healthy cells, conversely, thrive on oxygen).
Excess sugar levels greatly increase beta-catenin activity. To fight inflammation and the development of disease, dietary sugar consumption should actively be controlled.
Going Sugar-Free: For some, this is a huge deal. But really, it’s worth it. Sugar doesn’t do you any good, so why do we bother with it?
First of all, it’s addictive. It’s a drug, and one that food companies know will get you hooked on their products. What’s worse, is that to stay competitive, all of the food companies have adopted this approach, a prime contributor to America’s obesity problem and, if we may extrapolate our logic, it would seem a prime contributor to America’s cancer epidemic.
The real challenge here is that food companies, in their wily, roundabout ways, have managed to hide sugar in just about everything. The biggest culprit is high-fructose corn syrup and corn additives in general.
Look at the labels next time you go grocery shopping. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anything that doesn’t contain high-fructose corn syrup. So how do you avoid sugar when it’s so ubiquitous?
- Stay fresh. Stick to fresh fruits and vegetables. Until food companies start injecting your avocados with corn syrup, that’s a safe bet.
- Actually make your food. Buy ingredients, take them home and combine them into a dish. As a convenience-based society, we’re very prone to buying pre-made meals. They’re pre-processed, pre-prepared and loaded with hidden sugars, preservatives, sodium and empty calories.
- Cut out the sweets. Do you love chocolate? (Who doesn’t?) That’s fine. Just stick to the darkest chocolate you can still enjoy. The purer the chocolate, the less sugar. Use alternative sweeteners when you bake.
You can do it, and you can still enjoy your food. We have several recipes and recommendations on this site, and we’ll be happy to chat with you during one of our events. And if you need special guidance, let us know. We’ll be happy to meet with you.