A good reason to avoid sugar

The “editor” problem has still not been fixed, but I decided to go ahead and publish a post anyway this morning. You will notice that the tiny urls are not highlighted, so if you want to go and check an abstract, you will have to copy and paste the link. Sorry about that. I hope the problem can be resolved soon! (UPDATE, May 29: the fabulous Healthblogs manager has fixed the formatting/editing problem, so the tiny urls should work now, etc.).

That sugar is bad for folks who have cancer is nothing new. There is a ton of literature on this topic. And the cancer-sugar connection makes sense when you consider that PET scans are able to identify possibly active tumours thanks to radioactive sugar (radioactive sugar…no comment!!!) injected into the body. Since active tumours gobble up sugar much more quickly than healthy cells, the so-called “hot spots” that show up on PET scans could well be cancer cells having a radioactive sugar snack. Scary, when you think of it. (I haven’t had a PET scan yet, but Sherlock had one recently, and it turned out “clean,” by the way, which is super duper! Evviva!).

Anyway, after my diagnosis in 2005, and after reading Quillin’s book, “Beating Cancer with Nutrition,” I cut back on sugar. Way back. For a time I even eliminated it. After a few months, though, I fell off the no-sugar-at-any-costs wagon. I take a bit of honey in my morning cappuccino. I still avoid white and brown sugar as much as possible, but I have resumed eating sweets whenever I feel like it.

Thing is, since reading the study linking stress to myeloma (see my Page on this topic), I have become convinced that it’s worse to crave something sugary and NOT eat it, or eat it and feel guilty!, than just to go ahead and eat it. I don’t fight urges anymore (well, if they are within reason, of course!). My diet is certainly much healthier than it used to be: for instance, I eat heaps of Brassicaceae (broccoli etc.), garlic, onions etc.

But the point of my post today is: why is sugar bad for us? What are the mechanisms involved? Well, researchers at the Duke School of Medicine may have found an answer. According to a recent Science Daily article (http://tinyurl.com/45yrh2), the Duke researchers discovered that sugar is used by tumour cells to avoid programmed cell death (apoptosis): They make use of a protein called Akt, which promotes glucose metabolism, which in turn regulates a family of proteins critical for cell survival […]. So AKT (in its mutant form) apparently keeps cancer cells alive.

The researchers also noticed that when they removed glucose from the environment, Akt was not able to prevent the cancer cells from dying. Aha! One of the researchers commented that Akt’s dependence on glucose to provide an anti-cell-death signal could be a sign of metabolic addiction to glucose in cancer cells, and could give us a new avenue for a metabolic treatment of cancer. Interesting.

Then I read a related Science Daily report (http://tinyurl.com/3or2dj) about glycolysis, a process that turns glucose into energy for cells. Unlike healthy cells that get their energy for growth from both glycolysis and respiration, cancer cells are highly dependent on glycolysis. Highly dependent, huh? More proof that cancer and sugar are good buddies.

The second article tells us that researchers at MD Anderson have now combined two drugs that inhibit glycolysis in human tissue cultures of acute lymphocytic leukemia, thus starving the leukemia cells from their energy source while leaving healthy cells free to get their energy from respiration.

Now I just have to find the time to do some research concerning natural non-toxic ways to inhibit glycolysis without eliminating chocolate chip cookies from my diet…


  1. I have concluded that sugars consumed with good friends and good conversation reduces stress and therefore is a rationalization I am willing to embrace

  2. My intuition tells me moderation or balance is more important than abstinence. There is of course no way to live without glucose (or glycolysis) so there in lies the subtly. Is it the quick carbs that are the problem? Is it the blood glucose – insulin interplay? Is it spikes or valleys in blood glucose? When sugar is absorbed more slowly (as is the case with high fat ice cream) is that ‘better’?

    If it was as easy as eliminating quick carbs there would be a lot less myeloma.

  3. It is amazing that you bring this topic up right now, as I am struggling with the sugar idea, too, since reading Quillen’s book. I can’t get his statement, “I have never known anyone to survive cancer who did not give up sugar.” Scary! So, I went cold turkey for about 3 weeks, and eliminated almost all sugar. Got extremely fatigued at first, then rallied. Next, my colleagues at work threw a surpise party for me (last week), and I got box after box of my favorite chocolates – oops! Sooo, I started allowing myself a piece or two per day. Feeling a combination of guilt and satisfaction. However, tonight, no carbs of any kind as I am having a PET scan tomorrow! Weird, huh?

    Lisa Maxwell

  4. I gave up sugar in August 1960,and have steadfastly refused
    it ever since (almost). The one occasion was 5 years ago,
    when my doctor insisted I take some concoction,I think it
    was Esure plus or ensure plus in order to build me up.This
    concoction was saturated with glucose and milk solids,and
    it very nearly killed me.My weight fell to 90 lbs with a body/
    mass index of 15.4 (15 is starvation).EventuallyI threw the
    whole lot out.My good wife Annie
    nursed me back to health,which took a long time.She told
    me afterwards that I looked like something out of Belsen.
    I shall never take any sugar again.I had 31 of my own teeth
    previously but I had extractions and fillings,also a damaged
    inner ear with balance and hearing problems. Also cardiac
    I had told the doctor that I had a sugar intolerance
    but he contemptuously waved it to one side and insisted
    that I continued.I refused.
    It was at that time that an abnormal paraprotein was
    discovered in my blood,which turned out to be MGUS.

    If you are thinking what I am thinking,then “Yes” I
    think you are right.

    Sugar is bad,and if you try to give it up,and by that I mean
    every single grain,you will experience withdrawal symptoms.

    I am talking about sucrose. You will find it secreted in
    tinned soups,bread,many tinned vegetables,as well as
    the obvious jams,marmalades,cakes and pastries,etc.
    It is most insiduous.

    Fructose is good for you – very good if you eat the whole
    fruit,and I eat loads.

    If there is one message I would like to leave Posterity
    it is this one.

    Thank you Margaret for allowing me space,and Good
    Health and Good Luck to all.

    Old Bill.

  5. Do you still make your chocolate/curcumin supplement with honey (fructose + glucose)?

    I borrowed your idea for chocolate-based delivery systems for dietary supplements. I am using it for cinnamon and more cocoa (!), because I am interested in using cinnamon and high-flavanol cacao products to improve blood pressure and blood lipids.

    Per serving, I am using 1/4 oz 100% cacao (Baker’s or Ghirardelli brand, whichever I can get) plus 3/4 tablespoon natural cocoa, 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon honey. Which is quite palatable.

  6. When I met Margareth I stopped using grain sugar in my coffees and cappuccinos. I’m now used to it, so no big problem. In addition I also lost a kilo or so of weight, which is not bad. However, when I asked my onc doctor if sugar was bad for MM, he answered that sugar was not related to my pathology and that the blood test in which sugar is measured is important only to assess my general health state.
    So, I’m a little puzzled re sugar. I believe that sugar used for PET is something different from the sugar we eat everyday. I mean, if sugar were really bad for cancer, doctors would say it. Period. We would also probably have a Nobel prize for such a discovery…
    Sherlock, here, very very confused.

  7. I feel that doctors do not say that sugar is bad for cancer because the majority of them know nothing about nutrition or avoid the tons of evidence that corroborate the relationship between sugar and cancer. Have you ever noticed the candy jars at oncologist’s offices? If more people (cancer patients and everybody else) give up sugar, oncologist will be out of business.
    Stevia is a good alternative to sugar. It is sweeter than sugar, but it takes a little bit of getting used to the bitter after taste. Once you do, you will not miss sugar. Oh, by the way, Japan uses it in its soft drinks and other sweets.

  8. Sherlock, If the sugar/Akt research leads to new therapies, maybe someone WILL get a Nobel prize for this some day. This is new stuff. There seem to be lots of people looking into this connection (http://tinyurl.com/4xqsrf and search for akt glucose). GSK is already testing an Akt inhibitor in humans. Other researchers are testing calorie restriction in some kinds of cancers in mice (http://tinyurl.com/3v5b6c). The sugar used for PET is just ordinary glucose, but with a much higher than normal percentage of radioactive Carbon 14 among the carbon atoms in the molecules, to make it show up on the scan. The radiolabeled glucose is metabolized just like ordinary glucose.

  9. For those who still in doubt : I read many scientific papers (from US universities) about cancer prevention and it is totally clear that sugar is food for cancer. I stopped using sugar right away! Each time I am tempted to eat sugar, I think of the cancer cells ready to eat this sugar and… grow!

  10. So we have:
    – the old glucose cancer link
    – then the new AKT link that Margaret’s report discovered
    – I recently read that sugar also elevates NF-Kappa – NF-Kappa is a vicious thing when it comes to cancer

    evidence is really mounting up!

    What I have real trouble with is: what is a sugary food? Fruits I heard many times are ok/good but I also heard many times that white flour is as bad as a sugar. And then there is the question of hidden sugar: ketchup has quite a bit of sugar, thousand island salad dressing also… I find it very tough to separate high glycemic food from low glycemic food. Does anybody have a good weblink for this?

    Margaret was mentioning the quest for natural glucose “removers”: I heard once black and green tea (also useful for their EGCG) are very effectively reducing blood sugar. But then I heard a warning that coffeine (which tea has) increases the uptake of blood sugar in cells and if this includes cancer cells this form of glucose reduction could backfire.

  11. Great comments, everyone, thanks! (big smile)
    Ben, just a quick note (it seems that I have no time these days…!). I found a website called “The Glycemic Index” with a searchable database that will give you the GI of a lot of foods. Here is the link: http://www.glycemicindex.com/
    Gee whiz, it will even give you the GI of a French baguette with a chocolate spread!
    Hope this answers your question,
    Margaret 🙂

  12. Oops, I forgot to mention that caffeine may be bad for us in some, perhaps many, ways BUT it inhibits VEGF, a process that feeds tumours and cancer cells (I wrote a post or two on this topic).
    So I am going to continue drinking an espresso first thing in the morning. I am going to try it with fructose this summer (right now I use a bit of honey)…hmmm…

  13. We are having good results after just a couple of months, on slowing down the progression of mm with AVEMAR. It works well with IMMPOWER (AHCC).

    Research indicates that Avemar works through
    several different mechanisms. One of its most
    unique benefits, however, is its ability to inhibit
    glucose metabolism in cancer cells.
    Research at UCLA has demonstrated that
    Avemar reduces glucose flow into cancer cells—
    which inhibits their ability to produce additional
    nucleic acids and subsequently reduces their prolif-
    eration or growth. In the presence of Avemar com-
    pounds, cancer cells begin to utilize the available
    glucose to produce substances that actually inhibit
    cell division and stimulate programmed cell death
    (apoptosis) within the tumor.

    Clinical studies with Avemar in cancer of the urinary tract and in chronic myel-
    ogenous leukemia are still ongoing in Europe. In Israel, a multicentric, double-blind clinical trial with Avemar in metastatic CRC is currently under an interim analysis. There is much observational data about the favorable use of Avemar in a variety of other human malignancies, including ovarian cancer, gastric cancer, thyroid cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and multiple myeloma.

  14. A blog reader told me about this fermented wheat germ extract last year, and in fact I had started doing research on it. My Avemar draft is dated November 14 2007! Gee whiz. That shows you how far behind I am with everything, including replying to blog readers etc. Sigh!
    This information is very interesting, Nicki, and I will definitely finish my post in the next few weeks. Thanks so much for reminding me about it!
    🙂 Margaret

  15. I suspect there is another reason for the increased uptake of glucose by cancer cells: they are reproducing and growing faster than normal cells, and therefore must have a faster metabolic rate. The faster the metabolic rate, the faster food is burned to support it.

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