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Cancer Cells Love Fructose

I keep hearing that all sugars are the same–and that even high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is no different from any other sugar. Even if my instinct tells me differently, industry spin masters keep trying to assuage our concern about sweeteners. (And make us feel like fools for wondering about it.) With a new study from a research team at UCLA , the cat may finally be out of the bag: Pancreatic cancer cells use fructose to divide and proliferate.

Although it’s widely known that cancers thrive on the simple sugar glucose, this is the first time a connection has been shown between fructose and cancer proliferation, said Dr. Anthony Heaney, senior author of the study.  And proliferation? My dictionary defines proliferation as a “rapid increase in numbers.” The words “cancer cells” and “proliferation” just don’t go well together. Although the food and beverage industry argues that sugar is sugar, actually “fructose and glucose metabolism are quite different,” Heaney’s team discovered.

Tumor cells fed both glucose and fructose used the two sugars in two different ways. The researchers said their finding may help explain why other studies have linked fructose intake with pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest cancer types.

“The bottom line is the modern diet contains a lot of refined sugar including fructose and it’s a hidden danger implicated in a lot of modern diseases, such as obesity, diabetes and fatty liver,” said Heaney. “These findings show that cancer cells can readily metabolize fructose to increase proliferation. They have major significance for cancer patients, given dietary refined fructose consumption.”

The main source of fructose in the Western diet is HFCS. The corn-based sweetener has been on the market since about 1970 and now accounts for more than 40 percent of the caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages.

HFCS is made by changing the sugar (glucose) in cornstarch to fructose. The end product is a combination of fructose and glucose. Because it extends the shelf life of processed foods and is cheaper than sugar, HFCS has become ubiquitous in many sodas, fruit-flavored drinks and other processed foods. Essentially, it seems to be in just about any food item that comes in a package.

“I think this paper has a lot of public health implications,” Heaney said. “Hopefully, at the federal level there will be some effort to step back on the amount of HFCS in our diets.”

Now the team hopes to develop a drug to stop tumor cells from making use of fructose. So…we need a drug to stop tumor cells from using fructose? Am I missing something? Wouldn’t it just be easier to stop the excessive use of refined fructose?

by Melissa Breyer

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