Scientists in Belgium found that yeast with high levels of glucose, or blood sugar, can overstimulate the same proteins found inside tumors and make cancer cells grow more rapidly.
Lead authors Johan Thevelein, Wim Versées, and Veerle Janssens began their work in 2008 by investigating cells’ appetite for sugar and the so-called “Warburg effect,” a condition that occurs when tumor cells make energy by rapidly metabolizing glucose, a behavior not seen in normal cells. The energy created by this process fuels tumor growth, according to the researchers.
It has previously been established that cancer cells support their growth by rewiring their metabolisms to take glucose and synthesize it into lactate. Conversely, healthy cells continue with normal respiration, a process in which they take glucose and break it down into carbon dioxide and water.
The researchers concluded that hyperactive sugar consumption by cancerous cells leads to a cycle of continued stimulation of cancer development and growth.
The study, which was published Oct. 13 in the journal Nature Communications, “is able to explain the correlation between the strength of the Warburg effect and tumor aggressiveness,” according to Thevelein, who is a molecular biologist and professor at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. “This link between sugar and cancer has sweeping consequences.”
And while the findings are considered monumental by the researchers themselves, they aren’t considered a breakthrough and do not prove that eating a low-sugar diet will reduce your risk of developing cancer.
“The findings are not sufficient to identify the primary cause of the Warburg effect,” Thevelein said. “Further research is needed to find out whether this primary cause is also conserved in yeast cells.”
A separate study published earlier this year found that sugar-laden food and drink could trigger cellular changes that cause cancer of the oesophagus.
Incidences of oesophageal cancer have spiked globally in recent decades, with many hypothesizing that a high sugar intake could be the culprit.
Prior to these studies, sugar’s only link to cancer was through obesity — a condition which can also cause the growth of cancerous tumors.