This Sweetener Banned in Many Countries Causes Cancer

March 26, 2019

Consuming the equivalent of one can of soda per day with this sweetener caused colon cancer to develop via larger tumors, according to a study by Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian investigators.

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) causes insulin resistance, diabetes, hypertension, increased weight gain, and not to mention is manufactured from genetically modified corn. 

Increased consumption of HFCS also results in depletion of chromium in the body, which is important is helping glucose pass from the bloodstream into the cells.

The study, published in the journal Science, shows how high-fructose corn syrup fuels the growth of colon tumors in these mice and demonstrated a potential strategy to block this excess tumor growth. Though more study is needed to demonstrate whether high-fructose corn syrup promotes colon tumor growth in humans, the findings might have implications for cancer treatment or prevention.

“The study shows that colorectal polyps feed on high-fructose corn syrup and explains the molecular mechanism by which this drives the growth of the tumor,” said co-senior author Lewis Cantley, Ph.D. ’75, the Meyer Director of the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian. “While our work was conducted in mice, our findings build on mounting evidence that sugar fuels cancer growth.”

Investigators say that, based on their findings, people with colon cancer or those at high risk should avoid sugary drinks.

“If you are predisposed to getting polyps, you should not be drinking any sugar-sweetened beverages,” said lead author Dr. Marcus D. Goncalves, assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and an endocrinologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “If you have colorectal cancer, you could be feeding your tumor by drinking high-fructose corn syrup.”

Consumption of soda and other beverages sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup has increased dramatically since the 1980s, the investigators said. During that same period, rates of obesity and metabolic syndrome, along with colorectal cancer among young and middle-aged adults, have also risen. Observational studies suggest people who eat more sugar-sweetened foods and those who are obese have a higher risk of colon cancer. But it has been hard to disentangle the effects of diet and complex conditions like obesity in colon cancer.

Other observational studies have linked diets high in processed meat and low in fiber to increased colon cancer risk, while high-fiber diets loaded with fruits and vegetables and low in red meat have been associated with reduced risk. Though these types of studies can’t prove that diet causes colon cancer, there are good reasons to suspect it might contribute.

Now, Cantley, Goncalves and their colleagues provide more direct evidence that sugar promotes colon tumor growth. To do this, they squirted a small dose of high-fructose corn syrup each day for eight to nine weeks into the mouths of mice genetically engineered to develop colon tumors. This dose is the mouse equivalent of drinking one soda per day, which about half of Americans do, Goncalves said. These mice did not become obese or develop metabolic syndrome.

The investigators then compared the tumors that developed in the sugar-fed mice with tumors in mice with the same predisposition to colon tumors but no added sugar in their diet. They found that the sugar-fed mice developed more large tumors than the control group.

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