Refined Sugar Promotes Cancer

cancer and sugarUnfolding research led by Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Lewis Cantley has determined that refined sugar stimulates the growth of cancer cells into tumors, and then larger tumors.

The discovery was recently broadcast by CBS’ 60 Minutes, in a piece that also highlighted research led by Dr. Robert Lustig, which was reviewed previously by RealNatural (read the article.)

Dr. Cantley, a professor of cell biology at Harvard, has been documenting how cancer cells are able to grow and multiply. He finds that when blood sugar spikes from eating refined sugars, insulin levels also climb. This spike in blood glucose and insulin promote the cancer cells to develop insulin receptors, which allow them to become increasingly active and aggressive by utilizing glucose. Without this spike in blood sugar, the research shows, cancerous cells can be more easily knocked out by the immune system.

Two decades of research has illustrated that we all produce cancer cells on an ongoing basis. But feeding these cells with glucose promotes the growth of tumors into full-blown cancers.

Most of this was highlighted in the 60 minutes piece. The story gets even more interesting, however, as we consider some of Dr. Cantley’s more recent findings.

The fact is, cancer cells are adapting and changing rapidly in the body to accommodate themselves. How do they do this?

Dr. Cantley and his associates have found that cancer cells utilize an enzyme called phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase, or PHGDH. PHGDH is a substrate derived from phosphate and glucose developed during the glucose energy cycle. PHGDH apparently allows the tumor cells to modify the positions of carbon atoms among their genetic structures.

This alteration of carbon atoms allows the cell to mutate and adapt, allowing them to grow stronger and evade the body’s immune system.

Dr. Cantley and his research teams have found PHGDH active within the gene regions of cancer cells. Their increased expression has been found in breast cancer cells, melanoma cells and others.

Another interesting finding by Dr. Cantley and his teams is that cancer cells are able to begin their alteration of the normal glucose energy cycle when a critical enzyme, pyruvate kinase M2, is blocked by reactive oxygen species (also called ROS). This means that the ability of the cancer cells to alter the normal sugar conversion process requires using free radicals – produced when we eat unhealthy foods or are exposed to toxins.

As Dr. Cantley stated in his article in the journal Science last December, “control of intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS) concentrations is critical for cancer cell survival.”

“Control” comes in the form of reducing ROS by increasing antioxidant intake and reduced toxin exposure.

One of the most available ROS comes from low-density lipoproteins, which oxidize readily to become ROS. This means that the cancer cells are using LDL-cholesterol radicals and other free radicals – along with spiked glucose levels – to help them grow into larger tumors.

Dr. Cantley’s research provides the linch pins that connect the high-fat, highly-processed and overly sugary western diet to the rapid growth of cancer in modern society.

Learn about a high-antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic diet.


Garcia-Cao I, Song MS, Hobbs RM, Laurent G, Giorgi C, de Boer VC, Anastasiou D, Ito K, Sasaki AT, Rameh L, Carracedo A, Vander Heiden MG, Cantley LC, Pinton P, Haigis MC, Pandolfi PP. Systemic Elevation of PTEN Induces a Tumor-Suppressive Metabolic State. Cell. 2012 Mar 5.

Anastasiou D, Poulogiannis G, Asara JM, Boxer MB, Jiang JK, Shen M, Bellinger G, Sasaki AT, Locasale JW, Auld DS, Thomas CJ, Vander Heiden MG, Cantley LC. Inhibition of pyruvate kinase M2 by reactive oxygen species contributes to cellular antioxidant responses. Science. 2011 Dec 2;334(6060):1278-83.

Mullarky E, Mattaini KR, Vander Heiden MG, Cantley LC, Locasale JW. PHGDH amplification and altered glucose metabolism in human melanoma. Pigment Cell Melanoma Res. 2011 Dec;24(6):1112-5.

Wang Z, Chatterjee D, Jeon HY, Akerman M, Vander Heiden MG, Cantley LC, Krainer AR. Exon-centric regulation of pyruvate kinase M alternative splicing via mutually exclusive exons. J Mol Cell Biol. 2011 Nov 1.

Locasale JW, Grassian AR, Melman T, Lyssiotis CA, Mattaini KR, Bass AJ, Heffron G, Metallo CM, Muranen T, Sharfi H, Sasaki AT, Anastasiou D, Mullarky E, Vokes NI, Sasaki M, Beroukhim R, Stephanopoulos G, Ligon AH, Meyerson M, Richardson AL, Chin L, Wagner G, Asara JM, Brugge JS, Cantley LC, Vander Heiden MG. Phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase diverts glycolytic flux and contributes to oncogenesis. Nat Genet. 2011 Jul 31;43(9):869-74.

Case Adams is a California Naturopath with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies. “My journey into writing about alternative medicine began about 9:30 one evening after I finished with a patient at the clinic I practiced at over a decade ago. I had just spent the last two hours explaining how diet, sleep and other lifestyle choices create health problems and how changes in these, along with certain herbal medicines and other natural strategies can radically yet safely turn ones health around. As I drove home that night, I realized I needed to get this knowledge out to more people. So I began writing about health with a mission to reach those who desperately need this information. The strategies in my books and articles are backed by scientific evidence along with wisdom handed down through traditional medicines for thousands of years.” Case connects with the elements by surfing, hiking and being a beach bum.

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