(AM) — Every Halloween, warnings to parents sound the alarm on cannabis and other drugs ending up in their children’s candy. While these advisories rarely come to fruition, another dangerous substance is guaranteed to be in kids’ treats: sugar.
Though the link between sugar consumption and cancer has been increasingly established in recent years, researchers at KU University in Belgium published further evidence this month in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications.
According to a press release from VIB, a research institute affiliated with study researcher Johan Johan Thevelein, who co-founded the nine-year joint research project that released the findings:
“Scientists have clarified how the Warburg effect, a phenomenon in which cancer cells rapidly break down sugars, stimulates tumor growth. This discovery provides evidence for a positive correlation between sugar and cancer, which may have far-reaching impacts on tailor-made diets for cancer patients.”
Non-cancerous cells produce energy through aerobic respiration, which breaks down digested food into energy. Through this process, Northwestern University explains, “glucose is converted into CO2 and H2O in the presence of oxygen, releasing large amounts of ATP,” adenosine triphosphate, often considered the “energy currency of life.”
In contrast, cancer cells obtain energy by fermenting sugar, even when ample oxygen is available. This process is called the Warburg effect.
According to Thevelein:
“Our research reveals how the hyperactive sugar consumption of cancerous cells leads to a vicious cycle of continued stimulation of cancer development and growth. Thus, it is able to explain the correlation between the strength of the Warburg effect and tumor aggressiveness. This link between sugar and cancer has sweeping consequences.”
Business Insider further explained how the study clarified the Warburg effect:
“The researchers behind the new study observed yeast cells in the lab, and found that their fermentation process — the same one that cancer cells prefer — actually stimulates tumor growth.
“Their findings suggest that the most common cancer-causing genes, called Ras proteins, fuel aggressive tumors with their sugar intake. In short, sugar ‘awakens’ existing cancer cells, making them multiply and expand rapidly, according to these scientists.”
Though the study was conducted in human cells, the researchers cautioned that the next step is to study actual patients in clinical trials before conclusions about treatment and diet can be made.
Nevertheless, sugar is also linked to other health ailments, including heart disease and obesity. According to the University of California San Francisco medical school, added sugars, which are “added in preparation of foods, either at the table, in the kitchen or in the processing plant,” and include sucrose and high fructose corn syrup, “ are often overconsumed in the United States and pose a particular risk to children and teens.
“The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting total intake of discretionary calories, including both added sugars and fats, to 5% –15% per day,” UCSF explains. “Yet children and adolescents in America obtain about 16% of their total caloric intake from added sugars alone.”
Further, they note that “the average American consumes 19.5 teaspoons (82 grams) every day. That translates into about 66 pounds of added sugar consumed each year, per person.”
UCSF also points out that sugar may have addictive qualities:
“Using brain-scanning technology, scientists at the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse were among the first to show that sugar causes changes in peoples’ brains similar to those in people addicted to drugs such as cocaine and alcohol. These changes are linked to a heightened craving for more sugar. This important evidence has set off a flood of research on the potentially addictive properties of sugar.”
As parents prepare to take their children trick-or-treating, evidence suggests they should be far more concerned about conventional candy than weed-laced gummy bears.
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