THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SUGAR AND CANCER IS REVEALED
A ubiquitous substance in many commercial foods, sugar is a real “drug” for some humans. No need to be scientific to notice the harmful effects of sugary foods and sweetened beverages, be it on children or adults. With regard to the global scourge of overweight, obesity or cancer, researchers are working to find the keys to a diet that is appropriate for patients, and also to improve the recommendations of adult intake of sugars as pointed out by the WHO.
This real public health problem has been the subject of a nine-year joint research project led by several teams of Belgian researchers. This study has enabled a breakthrough in cancer research. Scientists have clarified how the Warburg effect, a phenomenon in which cancer cells rapidly decompose sugars, stimulates tumor growth.
This discovery provides evidence of a positive correlation between sugar and cancer, which can have profound implications for tailor-made diets for cancer patients. The research results were published in October 2017 in the scientific journal Nature Communications. This does not apply to sugars in vegetables and fresh fruit or to those naturally present in milk as there are no data yet showing that they have harmful effects on health.
HEALTH EFFECTS OF SUGAR
Project initiated in 2008, the main objective of this research was the Warburg effect, or the observation that tumors convert significantly higher amounts of sugar to lactate compared to healthy tissues. Among the most important characteristics of cancer cells, this phenomenon has been widely studied and even used to detect brain tumors, among other applications. But so far, it is not known if the effect is merely a symptom of cancer, or a cause.
The Warburg effect has been studied since the 1960s. However, its precise nature remained blurred. Thanks to this new study, the emergence of projects to explore its therapeutic potential is finally possible.
SUGAR AWAKENS CANCER CELLS
Although previous research on cancer metabolism focuses on mapping metabolic features, this study clarifies the link between metabolic deviation and oncogenic potency in cancer cells.
This research reveals how overactive sugar in cancer cells leads to a vicious cycle of continuous stimulation of cancer development and growth. These results also explain the correlation between the strength of the Warburg effect and tumor aggression. This link between sugar and cancer has serious consequences. The results provide a basis for future research in this area, which can now be carried out with much more precise and relevant attention.
YEAST AS A MODEL ORGANISM
Research on yeast cells was essential to the discovery because these cells contain the same “Ras” proteins commonly found in tumor cells, which can cause cancer in a mutated form. Using yeast as a model organism, the research team examined the connection between the activity of Ras proteins and the metabolism of highly active sugar in yeast.
The researchers observed in yeast that sugar degradation is linked via fructose-1, 6-bisphosphate (Fru-1, 6-BP or fructose-1, 6-diphosphate, is an organic compound present in very many living cells) to the activation of Ras proteins that stimulate the multiplication of yeast and cancer cells. The researchers point out that this mechanism has been preserved throughout the long evolution of the yeast cell in humans.
Finally, the main advantage of using yeast is that research has not been affected by the additional regulatory mechanisms of mammalian cells that hide underlying crucial processes. The researchers were able to target this process in yeast cells and confirm its presence in mammalian cells.
However, the results are not sufficient to identify the primary cause of the Warburg effect. More research is needed to determine whether this primary cause is also conserved in yeast cells. But one thing is confirmed: sugar is a real poison for cancer patients and its consumption for healthy people must remain reasonable and not systematic. Think about your next cup of tea or coffee: sugar is not essential; it is above all a bad habit.