Denise from Redlands, Queensland, Australia asked:

Does sugar feed cancer cells?

Sugar and cancer

Does sugar feed cancer cells? Should it be avoided during treatment?

Our answer

Like many myths, this one contains a half-truth – all cells in the body use sugars as fuel. Regular body cells growing, repairing and just doing their usual jobs use blood glucose as their fuel – so do cancer cells. In fact, when you eat carbohydrate foods, the body converts them to simple sugars to fuel your cells, and if you don’t eat enough carbohydrate for the body’s energy needs, your body finds other ways of making this essential fuel from proteins and fats. So while cancer cells in the test-tube have been shown to grow well on glucose, and perhaps even better on fructose (a common sweetening sugar used mainly in the US, but used much less here in Australia), this doesn’t mean eating sugar will make cancer cells grow faster or even cause cancer. Even if it were possible to avoid all sugar and somehow stop sugars reaching any cancer cells, you would be starving your body’s healthy cells along with any cancer cells. Plus, your body carefully regulates your blood sugar levels. A healthy diet containing plenty of fruit and vegetables and wholegrains, and limiting sugary or fatty foods which are also low on healthy nutrients (like soft drinks, lollies, sweets and cakes), is the best way to ensure your body has a steady stream of the fuel it needs and that you avoid becoming overweight, which is a risk factor for developing cancer.

This page was last updated on: June 20, 2012

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