“Does Sugar Cause Cancer?”

February 3, 2018

By Anna Varriano

That is a question that someone asked me recently, and if you look at a lot of the research literature out there, the answer is that a direct link hasn’t been absolutely proven … yet.

What do you think?

Before you answer, I’d like to give you a few things to consider.

I don’t think that any of you would say that sugar is a health food and that people who avoid it should start adding some to their meals and snacks. The reality is that healthy folks, yours truly included, consume sugar in one form or another virtually every day. Sugars aren’t all evil – it’s the various forms of sugar that are problematic. What are some of these forms?

Well, there are the forms found in whole foods, such as natural sugars in fruits and vegetables (e.g. fructose, sucrose, starch), dairy products (lactose), and even meat (glycogen). We can also include the starches found in foods such as rice, grains (including corn), and potatoes that our body breaks down into glucose.

Then there’s the popular ‘white stuff’, aka table sugar, that most of us think of when we hear the word sugar – the stuff that many of us commonly use in baking and/or add to coffee, tea, and other beverages. At least in those uses, the amount of sugar we are using is obvious – and we can control it (which takes a lot of effort for many people with sugar cravings … and dare I say sugar addictions … the topic of an upcoming blog).

Then there are all the forms of sugar that are added to packaged and processed food. I call these ‘hidden’ sugars as sometimes you have to be a detective to figure out how much sugar is actually in these products, as it appears on the ingredient label multiple times, in many different forms, each with a different name. I’ve seen dozens of different names for sugar listed on the ingredient labels of packaged foods. Check out this list from Women’s Health Magazine.


Some of the leading health issues in Canada and around the world are: obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. These conditions are often seen together in a condition called ‘metabolic syndrome; however,  There is no doubt that sugar is associated with these health issues; however, there are still contradictory views as to whether or not sugar is associated with cancer – the leading cause of death in Canada according to Stats Can (30% of all deaths).

But those contradictory views may soon be put to rest thanks to a nine-year research project recently published in the journal Nature Communications. This study explored the relationship between sugar and cancer. Some sources say that through this project, scientists have clarified how the Warburg effect, a phenomenon in which cancer cells rapidly break down sugars, stimulates tumor growth. While more research is needed, an October 2017 article in Science Daily stated that “this discovery provides evidence for a positive correlation between sugar and cancer, which may have far-reaching impacts on tailor-made diets for cancer patients” … and of course, that more research is needed.

In the mean time, here are a few things that science has proven sugar is capable of doing to our bodies:

  • It can cause inflammation
  • It can weaken our immune system
  • It can cause obesity

There is little doubt that all of the above play a role in increasing the risk of cancer; in fact, take a look at the diagram below, based on evidence from numerous studies conducted on the relationship between being overweight and cancer. This is serious when you consider the high and ever increasing rates of obesity around the world, especially in North America, and especially among children.

So, while research studies have identified numerous causes of cancer, but have yet to confirm a direct link between sugar and cancer, let’s play a game of connect the dots based on my thought process:

           . . . eating sugar =increased blood glucose levels . . .

          . . . increased blood glucose levels = increased insulin levels . . .

          . . . insulin is a fat-storing  hormone therefore. . .

          . . .  increased insulin levels = increased fat storage . . .

          . . . increased fat storage = increased weight gain . . .

          . . . increased weight gain = being overweight . . .

          . . . being overweight = increased risk of many types of cancer . . .


Did you connect the dots between sugar and cancer?

Having some sugar once in a while isn’t a big deal. The big deal is that once upon a time, sugar used to be a small part of the diet – in fact, not that long ago, it was considered an indulgence affordable only by the rich. Unfortunately, in the current Standard American Diet (S.A.D … how ironic), that is no longer the case – to the tune of a global sugar industry of almost …


Imagine if we had that kind of money for cancer prevention and complementary health care research. Think the sugar industry would dig into their deep pockets to sponsor any of it? If they did, how would the results be presented? Something to think about ….

So, while the powers-that-be duke out whether or not there is indeed a link between sugar and cancer, I’ll error on the side of my health and do my best to watch my sugar intake. If you’d like to do the same, here are some great ways to start.

Take control of what you can.

p.s. stay tuned for my next Tip of the Month where I’ll give you tips that can help break sugar cravings.


Privacy Policy