Can too much sugar cause cancer? Here's what experts say

  • While it is clear that excessive consumption of sugar can put us at risk of some deadly diseases, but is cancer one of them? We asked a few experts.
Studies over the period of time have warned us about the ill-effects of eating too much refined sugar(Pixabay)
Studies over the period of time have warned us about the ill-effects of eating too much refined sugar(Pixabay)
Published on Jan 24, 2022 04:45 PM IST
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There is hardly any of us who doesn't crave for a sugary treat at some point or the other. An urge to eat something sweet is natural though the frequency of these cravings and the number of times we surrender to it, determine the health risks we could face in future.

We may blame it on some unhealthy habits, stress, or even lack of sleep, but the truth is excessive consumption of refined sugar in the form of those tempting desserts could land us in a problematic situation in future where we would not be able to undo the damage done.

Studies over the period of time have warned us about the ill-effects of eating too much refined sugar and how they could lead to metabolic diseases like diabetes, heart damage and a number of other illnesses that stem out of obesity.

ALSO READ: Does sugar provide us energy or reduces immunity? Health experts answer

Refined sugar that you eat in the form bread, pasta, cake, colas, packaged cereals, yoghurts and even protein bars may please your taste buds but can play a significant role in increasing your health expenses.

While it is clear that excessive consumption of sugar can put us at risk of some deadly diseases, but is cancer one of them? We asked a few experts.

"On one hand, researchers at American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute, USA don’t think sugar causes cancer and say that the real problem is obesity while on the other, some cancer experts believe that sugar can drive cancer (Dr Lewis Cantley, Weill Cornell Medicine, New York). Adding fuel to this controversy and combining the above two hypotheses is another theory that excess sugar causes obesity which, in turn, leads to pro-carcinogenic state (favourable for cancer development) in the body," says Dr Vedant Kabra, Principal Director, Department of Surgical Oncology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram.

"The fact is that sugar in refined form is unhealthy. It is well known that cancer cells multiply at a fast rate. Thus they need more sugar for their growth consuming many more times the sugar and at a faster rate as compared to healthy cells (Warburg Effect). Please remember, sugar is not the only fuel for cancer cells – they need other nutrients like amino acids, fats, micronutrients as well. So, do we exclude everything that is needed by cancer cells from our diet? An obvious answer is a clear NO," adds Dr Kabra.

"Consuming large quantity of sugars found in items like soft drinks and cakes causes sugar overload which leads to overweight and obesity which ultimately increases the risk of developing cancers such as breast, cervix, colon, gall bladder, pancreas, ovary, kidney, stomach, esophagus, thyroid, liver, brain and other central nervous system and myeloma," says Dr Akshay Shah, Consultant Medical Haemato-oncology and Stem Cell Transplant, Global Hospital, Parel, Mumbai.

Overconsumption of sugar in the form of soft drinks, juices, candies, ice creams, sweets etc can cause spike in blood sugar and insulin level and may damage the cell DNA.

"Hyperglycemia or increased level of sugar causes damage to DNA which can lead to cancer. People who have hyper insulin levels which could be due to more sugar levels also are prone for developing cancer," says Dr Shah.

While eating too much refined sugar increases your risk of getting cancer indirectly, it doesn't mean you should eliminate it from your diet. Naturally occurring carbs in fruits, vegetables, grains etc are important for our body but the excessive consumption of refined ones that come from added sugar like soft drinks, bread, snacks can cause various illnesses.

"Natural sources of carbs or sugar can also provide fibres, vitamins, minerals which form an essential part of our diet. Excess of carbohydrates would obviously not be good even if they are from natural sources and many researchers are studying effect of low carbohydrate diet," says Dr Kabra.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2022