Sweet poison

On the 4th of January this year, just after the festive season, when many of us had consumed way too much sugar and alcohol, a story appeared in the news:

Researchers at The University of Texas M.D Anderson Cancer Center, one of the leading centers in the world for cancer research and treatment, published ground-breaking findings: Sugars In Western Diets Increase The Risk For Breast Cancer Formation And Subsequent Spread To The Lungs.

The article appeared in CANCER RESEARCH, an online journal. It dealt with a study performed on mice. “The current study investigated the impact of dietary sugar on mammary gland tumour development in multiple mouse models, along with mechanisms that may be involved,” said co- author Lorenzo Cohen, Phd, Professor of Palliative, Rehabilitation and Integrative medicine. “We determined that it was specifically fructose, in table sugar and high fructose corn syrup, ubiquitous within our food system, which was responsible for facilitating lung metastasis and 12 HETE production in breast tumors.”

The MD Anderson team conducted a study in which mice were randomised to one of four dietary groups. After 6 months, 30% of mice on a starch controlled diet had measurable tumors, whereas 50 – 58% of the mice fed sucrose-enriched diets had developed mammary tumors. “This study suggests that dietary sucrose or fructose induced 12 LOX and 12-HETE production in breast tumor cells in vivo,” said Cohen. “This indicates a possible signalling pathway responsible for sugar promoted tumor growth in mice.”

Twelve LOX and 12-HETE are biological substances in cells that are important not only in the regulation of the inflammation process but also in the modulation of a tumor cell’s ability to spread. Previous epidemiological

studies have indicated that overconsumption of sugar, promotes inflammation which in turn, triggers cancer formation. This is the first study to show a more direct link. Too much sugar has also been associated with numerous other diseases like diabetes, metabolic syndrome, ADHD, obesity and Alzheimers.

So how much sugar is too much?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that free sugars should not exceed five percent of total energy intake per day. In an adult, this translates to no more than six teaspoons of sugar a day. In a child, depending on weight and age this could be as little as three teaspoons per day. This includes hidden sugars in all products consumed.

Examples of sugar contained in popular items consumed daily (Courtesy of Tim Noakes in “Raising Superheroes”)

Item – Amount of sugar in teaspoons

  • Coca-cola 330ml can – 9
  • Barbie apple juice 200ml – 4 ¾
  • Fanta  330ml can – 10 ¼
  • Appletiser 330ml can – 8
  • Pronutro (chocolate  flavour)100g – 5 ¼
  • Weet-Bic 100g – ½
  • All Gold tomato sauce 50ml – 2 ½ 
  • Wellingtons sweet chilli sauce 50ml – 5 ¾

Our digestive systems break it down into two types of molecules: glucose and fructose. These products enter the bloodstream and trigger the pancreas to produce a hormone called insulin. Insulin allows our cells to internalise the glucose and fructose and use it for energy. It also converts the glucose into fat that gets stored around our bellies. When the sugar load in our bloodstream gets too high, too quick, insulin levels shoot up to compensate (making the pancreas work harder) and blood sugar levels drop quickly again:

SUGAR CRASH! Making you reach for an instant re-boost! MORE SUGAR! TO START THE WHOLE PROCESS AGAIN!

Eventually with this process happening over and over again, other metabolic and hormonal changes start taking place:

Insulin levels climb higher and higher and the body becomes more and more resistant leading to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

• More and more fat is stored in the liver and the belly and insulin levels go even higher. A fatty liver is the result.

• Higher insulin levels have been linked to Alzheimers. It also drops brain production of dopamine paving the way for cravings and addiction-like neurochemistry.

• Too much fructose (usually the kind found in processed foods) lowers “good cholesterol or HDL.” It also increases triglycerides, which can raise the risk of a heart attack or a stroke.

• High insulin levels have been associated with higher estrogen levels and higher levels of chronic inflammation. Hence higher breast cancer risk!


When we look at promoting all around good health, surely PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE! 

Preventing what we have within our power to prevent, empowers us to take control of our lives and stay healthy. Limiting sugar intake is one such alternative. Other lifestyle adjustments like moderating alcohol intake, stop smoking and getting enough exercise all contribute to a future of achieving optimal health.

Another lifestyle practice that we are just beginning to learn about in the West is meditation. Traditionally, meditation was only seen as an Eastern aspect of spirituality, something to be regarded with scepticism and suspicion, shrouded in mystery and only practised by yogis, swamis and mystics. However, studies highlighting the beneficial effects of meditation have brought this practise more and more into public acceptance in the West. It is no longer unusual for your doctor to discuss meditation as part of your treatment plan!

Meditation and its effects warrant a whole article on its own, so look out for the next issue of Buddies for Life. I am looking forward to bringing you all the most recent and relevant information and research regarding this topic.


Dr Sumayya Ebrahim is a gynaecologist in private practice in Johannesburg. She is also a blogger. Check out her blog “vaginations by Dr E” on www.vaginations.co.za