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The Cancer-Sugar Connection

White Plains Hospital

September 4, 2019

The Cancer-Sugar Connection

Sugar’s link to cancer risk is one more reason to limit it in your diet.

We all know sugar can be bad for us. Excess sugar consumption can lead to weight gain, dental problems, diabetes, and a list of other health issues. Now, studies show that a high sugar intake can even contribute—albeit indirectly—to a person’s risk of developing cancer.

“We still have a lot to learn in this area, but what we do know is that there’s definitely a link between sugar and obesity. Obesity is basically a state of inflammation, and we know that there’s a link between inflammation and cancer, too—inflammation anywhere in the body poses a higher risk of cancer,” says Dr. Yael Zack, an oncologist with White Plains Hospital.

Obesity-induced inflammation attracts other cells. While these cells are trying to fight the inflammation, they can actually end up feeding cancer cells.

As Dr. Zack explains, “Fat cells can be reservoirs for estrogen and inflammatory cytokines, and this can bolster cancer. This may lead to proliferation, which is defined as rapid cell reproduction, thus creating a haven for cancer cells.”

Dr. Zack’s advice is to focus on the cancer risks we are able to change, like diet, alcohol intake, and exercise. (As opposed to risk factors we can’t change, like genetics and family history.)

The best place to start is with a healthier diet. “I wouldn’t recommend a completely sugar-free diet, because we don’t have all the research yet,” about its link to cancer, Dr. Zack says. “Instead, I often recommend that my patients limit refined sugars and eat a Mediterranean, whole food, plant-based diet accompanied by lean animal protein, if needed.” There is also some preliminary data around what a Keto diet may do to fight off cancer. It’s still early in the research process, but it seems promising, according to Dr. Zack.

In the meantime, simple changes to your eating habits may help to lower risk. Some guidelines to keep in mind:

  • All sugar is the same to the body, so it’s important to be aware of the possible link between sugar and cancer.
  • When switching up your diet, remember to eating more vegetables than fruit, but be mindful that some fruits are higher in sugar than others.
  • Fruits such as bananas, pineapples, and grapes have a high sugar content. Instead, choose fruits with a lower sugar content, like blueberries, strawberries and apples.
  • Red meat is definitely correlated with cancer development, so limit significant amounts of it, if not cutting it out altogether.
  • Alcohol is another modifiable risk factor, as it has empty calories, sugar content, and is independently associated with increased cancer risk. Drink in moderation, or better yet, consider cutting it out altogether.
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