Glucose, Fructose and the Alarming Pancreatic Cancer News

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From the many news reports on the recent pancreatic cancer study, it’s enough to make one drop that soda can in fear. Although it’s probably a good idea to put the soda down, the stories on a study linking fructose to pancreatic cancer cell growth are overly alarming.

Here are the study basics: UCLA researchers added glucose to one set of pancreatic cancer cells and fructose to another set of cells. Fructose and glucose are both simple sugars. Previous research has shown that cancer cells metabolize sugar at faster rates than healthy cells and the scientists in this study were looking at the different actions of the two sugars.

After letting all the cells sit, the study found that both sugars led to increased cancer cell growth but the cancer cells metabolized the sugars in two different ways. In the case of fructose, the pancreatic cancer cells used the sugar to generate nucleic acids, the building blocks of RNA and DNA, which the cancer cells need to divide and proliferate. When metabolizing glucose, the cancer cells generated far more lactate and carbon dioxide, as well as fatty acids, which play a role in cancer growth.

Glucose and fructose both increased cancer cell growth at similar rates.

The study was published in Cancer Research and you can read about it here.

The findings are interesting but more research is needed before it can be used to make recommendations on public health. This is one study, and it is a cell study. Also, what this study did show is that both sugars increased cancer cell growth.

Fructose is common in the typical American diet with a lot of it coming from high-fructose corn syrup, common in many processed foods and sweetened sodas. High-fructose corn syrup is about 45 percent glucose and 55 percent fructose.  People also get fructose from sucrose, known as table sugar. Sucrose is about 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose.

A healthy diet will always include some sugar, as it naturally occurs in many nutritious foods like fruit and milk. The key is to limit added sugars of all types, rather than focusing on glucose versus fructose or sucrose.

With the new CDC report on obesity, what is clear is that Americans need to cut back on added sugar, no matter where it comes from. Reducing added sugar will help people get to and maintain a healthy weight, and that is one way research clearly shows that we can prevent pancreatic cancer.

When looking at the total body of evidence, AICR’s expert report found that excess body fat and abdominal obesity increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. (AICR’s 2009 policy report found that 28 percent of pancreatic cancer cases could be prevented if Americans maintained a healthy weight.) Foods containing folate protect against pancreatic cancer.

Last year, the American Heart Association recommended limiting the amount of added sugars to no more than about 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 for men. (Just one 12-ounce can of regular soda contains eight teaspoons of sugar.)

Eating more fruits and vegetables, and less sweets, is one clear way to cut added sugars from your day. For ways on eating a healthy diet, you could try out AICR’s New American Plate.


    Author: Mya Nelson

    Mya R. Nelson is at American Institute for Cancer Research, where she writes about the research in the field.

    2 thoughts on “Glucose, Fructose and the Alarming Pancreatic Cancer News”

    1. I think sugar in the diet needs to be addressed in the care of patients trying to survive pancreatic cancer. My husband had a difficult time after the Whipple procedure. He was in the hospital for 66 days. His diet consisted of fruit juice, ensure and other high sugar items. When he came home from the hospital he was on a clear liquid and then full liquid diet. This consisted of many items high in sugar-trying to get calories into him. When he finally got to see the oncologist his protein marker had gone from 200 to 2800-tumors were growing in lymph nodes.

      He has chosen not to eat many sweets (not because of this information). He has been eating fruit, vegetables, meat and lots of protein pasta for eight months. After 12 sessions of chemotherapy, his tumor marker is now 73.

      There are probably other factors involved-but I think sugar had a big role in the spreading of his cancer.

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