Breakthrough study confirms that sugar exacerbates cancer
We’ve known for a long time of links between sugar and cancer but the idea that sugar can actively exacerbate cancer has never been proven. That is until now, as the results of a nine-year long collaborative research study looking into the link between sugar and cancer has revealed some uncomfortable truths. Cancer does indeed love sugar, and the elusive evidence we’ve all been waiting for is here to prove that the Warburg effect is a thing.
For those of you that don’t know, the Warburg effect is the observation that tumours convert significantly higher amounts of sugar into lactate compared to healthy tissues. Effectively, the glucose intake from cancer cells is massively higher than healthy cells and the rate at which the glucose is fermented into lactic acid is just as high. This is a widely observed feature of cancer, but until now it has never been understood as to whether this was a symptom of cancer or potentially the cause of it. Correlation is, after all, not the same as causation.
The study, led by Professor Johan Thevelein, involved the use of yeast as a model organism to examine the connection between Ras activity and the highly active sugar metabolism in yeast. Ras genes are present in all animal cells, including human cancer cells. Yeast cells contain the exact same Ras proteins that are most commonly found in tumour cells which can cause cancer in mutated form, making it the perfect cell for cancer research.
What the team found was that the activation of the Ras proteins stimulated the multiplication of both yeast and cancer cells. The yeast which had an overactive influx of glucose caused the Ras protein to activate too much, making the cells grow at a scarily exorbitant rate. In effect confirming that cancer cells, when fed too much glucose, grows and spreads faster.
“Our research reveals how the hyperactive sugar consumption of cancerous cells leads to a vicious cycle of continued stimulation of cancer development and growth,” said Thevelein. “Thus it is able to explain the correlation between the strength of the Warburg effect and tumour aggressiveness.”
Although encouraging, Thevelein notes that whilst the team have made a breakthrough in research, it is in no way an indication that they are close to a medical breakthrough. Thevelein reiterated that the findings are not sufficient to identify the primary cause of the Warburg effect, and that further research needs to be undertaken. However health professionals will now be able to formulate diet plans for cancer patients based on the team’s findings.
It may not be the news anybody wants to hear, but it’s another black mark on sugar’s rap sheet: sugar can make tumours even more aggressive.