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Posted: October 20, 2017

Sugar can fuel cancerous cells, study says

Al Barry/Getty Images

By Najja Parker, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Different types of foods have been linked to cancer, including saturated fats and processed meats. Now, scientists say sugar can fuel the disease, too. 

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Researchers from universities in Belgium recently conducted a nine-year experiment, published in Nature Communications, that revealed how sugar stimulates the growth of tumors. 

They explained that healthy cells receive energy through aerobic respiration, a process that transforms digested food into energy molecules. To complete the process, oxygen is required so that carbon dioxide can be released.

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On the other hand, cancerous cells get energy from fermenting sugar, which causes tumor growth. This is called the Warburg effect.

For the study, they examined the correlation between “the strength of the Warburg effect and tumor aggressiveness” by observing the sugar fermentation of yeast, which is similar to that of cells. They both “share the unusual characteristic of favoring fermentation of sugar over respiration,” the study read.

The scientists not only confirmed that sugar causes tumors to grow, but that it also makes cells multiply faster. They believe the sugar produces more of the most common cancer-causing genes, also known as Ras proteins, which fuel aggressive tumors. 

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“Our research reveals how the hyperactive sugar consumption of cancerous cells leads to a vicious cycle of continued stimulation of cancer development and growth. Thus, it is able to explain the correlation between the strength of the Warburg effect and tumor aggressiveness. This link between sugar and cancer has sweeping consequences,” co-author Johan Thevelein said in a statement

While the researchers do not understand why the cells react this way to sugar, they think their findings can help treat cancer with low-sugar diets. 

“This research in yeast and human cells has led to a new very valuable scientific hypothesis,” the authors wrote. “The next step is to find out whether these results also apply to patients.”


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