Cancer Has a Sweet Tooth


Everyone loves a little sugar.  Whether it’s a sweet treat at the mall, dessert after dinner, or ice cream on a hot day.  Well, as it turns out, our taste buds are not the only ones who love sugar.  More and more research is showing that cancer cells also have a sweet tooth.  What they love most, and the environment they need to grow in, is one that is caused by an excess amount of circulating glucose.

Sugar in the Body and in our Diet

Glucose is our body’s preferred source of fuel.  Our cells take the carbohydrates we eat and they convert them to glucose to use as fuel.   Carbohydrates are extremely important for the functioning of our brain, muscles, and internal organs.  When obtained from natural sources, such as fruits and vegetables, these complex carbohydrates contain fiber, natural sugars, and starches. Their rate of absorption into our bloodstream is slowed by these properties.  The problem arises when we consume carbohydrates that are stripped of these nutrients through processing, thereby turning them into simple carbohydrates.

Simple carbohydrates, those not containing fiber, can cause a rapid rise in our body’s glucose levels because their rate of absorption into the bloodstream is much faster.  This rise, in turn, signals the production of insulin and triggers a biological process that ultimately can influence carcinogenesis (the creation of cancer) by causing cells to proliferate.

Both normal breast cells and cancer cells have insulin receptors on them.  When insulin attaches to its receptor, it has the same effect as when estrogen attaches – it causes cells to start dividing.  The higher our insulin levels, the faster our breast cells will divide.  The faster our breast cells divide, the more likelihood tumors will form and grow.   Several factors can play a role in the increase in our insulin levels.  These include:

  • How much and what kinds of carbs we eat in a meal
  • The amount of protein and fat in that same meal
  • How fast sugar is released from the gut into the blood – a rate determined by the Glycemic Index of the food.

How diet can help

Cancer begins on a cellular level.  Therefore, attacking it should be on that same level.  All cells in our body have an expiration date, a time when they have fulfilled their usefulness, done their assigned duty, and eventually die off and are expelled from the body.  This natural process of death is known as Apoptosis.  Having the right internal environment can promote this process and we can help it along by choosing foods containing cancer-fighting compounds to assist us in the battle.

To be clear, all carbohydrates are not bad.   When consumed in their complex form, carbohydrates become a powerful ally in the fight against breast cancer.  They contain compounds known as phytochemicals.  These same phytochemicals, designed to protect the plant from adverse environmental forces, also protect our body by preventing cell damage and cell replication.   Here is a list of ones that have shown significant progress in the fight against breast cancer:

  • Cruciferous vegetables (such as Arugula, Bok Choy, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, and Broccoli) contains compounds knows as glucosinolates, specifically indole-3-carbinol which helps convert the type of estrogen linked to breast cancer (estradiol and estrone) into a more benign form.  Preliminary studies suggest that in order to cut the risk of cancer in half, the average person would need to eat about two pounds (equivalent to about 6 – 8 cups) of broccoli or similar vegetables per.[1]
  • Citrus fruits, particularly lemons and limes, are an excellent source of vitamin C.  They also contain the anticancer properties of flavonoids and limonene.  In one study, these substances were shown to have the ability to modulate the decision a cell makes to divide or die. The recommended guidelines call for 1-2 pieces of fruit per day. These can be cut up as part of a breakfast fruit bowl or added to a shake or smoothie [2]
  • Flaxseeds contain compounds known as lignans.  Lignans are a protective phytoestrogen that can bind itself to the estrogen receptors in breast cells and interfere with the cancer-promoting effects of estrogen. Flaxseed is also an excellent source of the omega-3 essential fatty acids, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Studies on the effects of ALA on breast tissue showed that women who consume ALA have a much lower risk of breast cancer than those who do not.The seed contains abundant sources of lignans, while the oil contains the protective omega 3s. Try adding the seeds to your favourite muffin or smoothie recipe or drizzling 1/4 tsp of the oil onto your salad. [3] 

About Patricia Dean-Escoto:

Patricia Dean-Escoto is a certified nutrition consultant and breast cancer survivor.  She holds a master’s degree in education and has more than 20 years of experience working in both the field of education and healthcare.  In 2006, after being diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, Patricia returned to school to study nutrition and completed studies at Bauman College for her certification as a nutrition consultant.    Recently, she hosted a year-long radio show called Pathways to Healing on the Voice America network where she interviewed experts in the field of health and wellness.  Patricia is author of ‘The Top Ten Superfoods for Preventing Breast Cancer‘ and  creator of the My Breast Cancer Advocate app which is designed to assist those who are newly diagnosed with or recovering from breast cancer.  Her company, Pathways2healing, works exclusively with cancer patients in the area of nutrition and exercise.  She lectures both locally and nationally on the topic of nutrition and cancer prevention.

My Breast Cancer Advocate:

My Breast Cancer Advocate® is an interactive tool designed to act as an advocate for newly diagnosed or recovering breast cancer patients. Users can navigate the tool to determine questions to ask their doctors, gain valuable information about tests and procedures, set reminders, locate holistic and allopathic healthcare practitioners, learn about their rights, and find out what organizations are doing about prevention and legislation as it relates to breast cancer. Additionally, users can share their stories with other survivors via a dedicated blog, their Twitter, or Facebook accounts. Finally, the app contains a comprehensive dictionary of commonly used terms.

The app contains the following screens:

1. Questions
2. Tests
3. Procedures
4. Remind Me
5. Healthcare Network
6. My Rights
7. Get Involved
8. Share my story
9. Common Terms

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[1] Meng, Q., I.D. Goldberg, E.M. Rosen, and S.Fan. “Inhibitory Effects of Indole-3-Carbinol on Invasion and Migration in Human Breast Cancer Cells.”  Breast Cancer Res Treat 2000;63 (2): 147-152

[2] Kawaii, S., Y. Tomono, E. Katase, et al. “Antiproliferative Effects of the Readily Extractable Fractions Prepared from Various Citrus Juices on Several Cancer Cell Lines. “ J Agric Food Chem 1999;47 (7); 2509-2512.

[3] Serraino, M., and L. U. Thompson. “The effect of Flaxseed Supplementation on Early Risk Markers for Mammary Carcinogenesis.” Cancer Letters 1991;60: 135-142

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