- Belgian scientists claim they have established a clearer connection between sugar and cancer. They found that yeast with high levels of glucose overstimulated the same proteins often found mutated inside human tumors, making the cells grow faster.
- The study, published in Nature Communications, was conducted at VIB, a life sciences research institute in Flanders, Belgium.
- "Our research reveals how the hyperactive sugar consumption of cancerous cells leads to a vicious cycle of continued stimulation of cancer development and growth," Johan Thevelein, head of the VIB department of molecular biology told StoreBrands. "This link between sugar and cancer has sweeping consequences. Our results provide a foundation for future research in this domain, which can now be performed with a much more precise and relevant focus."
Even though this study could potentially help lead to new cancer therapies, it isn't going to comfort manufacturers who use sugar in their food and beverage products. Consumers are already wary of too much sugar in their diets, so the news that sugar may play a role in speeding up cell growth is only going to underscore that sentiment.
The researchers have reportedly been working on the link between sugar and cancer since 2008 in order to better understand the Warburg effect — a process where tumor cells create energy to grow through a fast breakdown of glucose which does not occur in normal cells.
Victoria Stevens, an American Cancer Society researcher, told CNBC the research results were positive but that only one product was the focus.
"They are providing a potential way (the Warburg effect) could be a cause of cancer, but they are a long way away from saying this could actually happen," she said.
The bottom line is that more research in this area is needed, and these latest findings don't establish a reason to recommend a low-sugar diet to cancer patients or to raise a red flag to people who consume cookies, candies and other items containing sugar.
Meanwhile, food and beverage makers continue to find ways to reduce sugar in their products. Global CPG producers cut sugar and salt from about 20% of their products in 2016, responding to growing consumer demand for healthy products, according to Bloomberg. A survey of 102 CPG companies found 180,000 products were reformulated last year — double the amount in 2015.
It's possible that users, manufacturers and researchers of alternative sweeteners will find a lot to like in this research since it underscores the path they're already on. Stevia leaf seems to be gaining in popularity with more companies adding it to their products. The industry also is exploring a host of other substances like monkfruit, date paste and sweet potatoes.
The American consumer's affinity for sugary-sweet foods probably isn’t going to change. What could shift is where the sweetener comes from, and news of this research will only help push things along a little more.