Fructose is a simple sugar found naturally in fruits, honey, and other foods. It has become a source of controversy among nutritionists and people interested in how sugar affects the body. There is concern that consuming too much fructose can lead to health problems such as obesity and diabetes. To add fuel to the fire, a recent study done in 2010 discovered a connection between fructose and pancreatic cancer. This study led to a debate about whether fructose actually causes cancer.
The study, titled Fructose Induces Transketolase Flux to Promote Pancreatic Cancer Growth, looked at the effect of glucose and fructose, two common types of sugar, on the cells of cancerous pancreatic tumors. Previous studies have shown that glucose feeds cancer cells, which helps them to multiply. This study looked at whether fructose had the same effect on cancer cells as glucose did.
Scientists in the study used cells from human pancreatic tumors. They put these cells in separate solutions of glucose and fructose. They marked the sugars with carbon markers in order to follow their path through the cancer cells and watched to see how the two sugars were metabolized. They found that the cancer cells used both glucose and fructose as a source of energy. In addition, the cells actually prefer to use fructose to create nucleic acids. These acids allow RNA and DNA to be formed. The cancer cells use RNA and DNA to divide and multiply. In other words, while fructose may not create cancer cells where none existed, it does provide a means by which cancer cells can proliferate.
Concerns About Fructose
The effect of fructose on cancer cells is a source of concern because of the amount of fructose a typical person consumes on a daily basis. Fructose found in fruit is less of a concern because it is mixed with the fiber content of fruit and metabolized differently than when it is refined to use in processed foods. However, most packaged and processed foods contain some form of refined fructose, which could be dangerous to people fighting cancer.
High fructose corn syrup, a highly processed sweetener made from corn that is 55% fructose, is in many common foods such as bread, ketchup, non-diet sodas, cereals, and more. It makes up at least 40% of all the added sweeteners in packaged foods. It is also the only sweetener in most non-diet sodas, although there is a trend toward using sugar in place of high fructose corn syrup in some sodas. Other sweeteners such as cane sugar and beet sugar, which also contain fructose, make up the other 60% of added sweeteners.
Fructose, and especially high fructose corn syrup, is so common in foods for three reasons. First, it’s inexpensive, needing only a small amount to provide the same sweetness as other sugars. Second, it’s easy to transport. Third, it helps keep foods moist and soft, an important selling point in bread-based products. These factors have caused the use of high fructose corn syrup alone to skyrocket over 1,000 percent.
Although the study did not specifically focus on high fructose corn syrup, it does suggest that cancer patients should reduce the amount of refined fructose in their diet as much as possible. Since fructose feeds cancer growth, eliminating sources of fructose from the diet may slow down the multiplication of cancer cells.
Since fructose is so common in packaged and processed foods, one way to reduce the amount of fructose in one’s diet is to prepare foods at home from whole, unprocessed ingredients. Checking labels to find products that are free of high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners will also help lower fructose consumption.