Sugar Is Cancer's Favorite Food: Here's Why

Photo: Tatjana Ristanic

If you participated in mbg's No Sugar Week, you know that sugar is as addictive as cocaine, and eliminating it can help anything from your sleep quality to your mood and skin quality. In fact, you may think you know everything there is to know about this sneaky substance. But new research, published in the scientific journal Nature, reminds us that there's still a lot more to learn about sugar and our health by highlighting the relationship between cancer cells and sugar.

This study shows that cancer cells process sugar differently from the rest of the cells in our body. What does that mean, exactly? It means they convert higher amounts of sugar into lactate than healthy tissues do. Scientists call this the Warburg effect, which is described as "a phenomenon in which cancer cells rapidly break down sugars." This Warburg effect can stimulate tumor growth.

So does this mean that sugar causes cancer? According to the study: No, this research doesn't suggest that. But it does mean that when there is already cancer in the body, sugar consumption can increase the rate at which the cells multiply and grow. In other words, a low-sugar diet could be very beneficial for people with cancer, but there's still more to learn about the role of sugar in preventing cancer in the first place.

This was a nine-year joint research project between microbiologists and molecular biologists at three different facilities in Belgium. As the world learns more and more about the dangers of sugar and where it's hiding in our foods (even healthy ones!), we'll likely see more research on the connection between sugar and cancer, which is one of the leading causes of death in the world. In a report, one of the lead researchers, Professor Johan Thevelein (VIB-KU Leuven), wrote, "This link between sugar and cancer has sweeping consequences. Our results provide a foundation for future research in this domain, which can now be performed with a much more precise and relevant focus."

Having trouble saying no to sugar? Here's some major inspo to get you started.

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