What has sugar got to do with breast cancer?


Hi there!  I am Dr. Lisa Schwartz and today I am going to talk about the impact that sugar consumption can have on cancer and other chronic diseases.  This involves talking about something called the glycemic index and chronic inflammation.


Sugar is a carbohydrate.  Carbohydrates serve as an immediate source of energy for our cells.  When you eat a carbohydrate, it can release its sugar into the bloodstream very quickly or relatively slowly.  This fact alone plays a very important role in determining how healthy that carb will be for you. 


So carbohydrates can be categorized according to how quickly they release sugar into the bloodstream.  A spoonful of table sugar gets absorbed into the bloodstream very quickly and rapidly raises blood sugar levels. 


As a consequence, your body releases a big batch of insulin to bring the blood sugar down to a normal level.  Insulin takes the sugar out of the bloodstream and puts it into the cells for them to use.


Compared to a teaspoon of table sugar, the sugar from an apple gets absorbed into the bloodstream more slowly because of its fiber content.  Your digestive system has to work harder to break down the fiber and get to the sugars. 


This leads to a slower and more steady increase in your blood sugar levels and a slower release of insulin to bring your blood sugar into a normal range. 


This slower release of insulin is very important at reducing your risk of “insulin resistance” which is the precursor to diabetes. 


Insulin resistance occurs when cells see so much insulin around all the time that they become less sensitive to it.  This means that when insulin tries to take sugar from the bloodstream and place it in a cell for it to use, the cell actually refuses unless there is a lot of insulin to overcome the resistance. 


Eventually, the cells’ resistance to insulin gets worse and there is not enough insulin to get sugar into the cells.  This causes a high blood sugar and subsequently, type II diabetes. 


While diabetes is something to be avoided as well, what has all of this got to do with breast cancer?  A lot. In fact, there have been specific studies in breast cancer patients demonstrating this link between breast cancer and insulin resistance. 


And the news is not good. Patients with breast cancer and insulin resistance or diabetes have a greater risk of dying from breast cancer.


Insulin resistance is also associated with a condition known as chronic inflammation.  You are all probably familiar with what happens with acute inflammation since that is a normal body response. 


Let’s say you cut your hand.  Your immune system sends out its army to create an inflammatory response which results in cells that stop the bleeding, fight any potential infection, and start healing the damage.  Once the damage is healed, the inflammatory response dies down.  That’s acute inflammation and it keeps us healthy. 


Chronic inflammation is another story.  It happens when there is a low grade irritation that smolders along in your body.  The cells that were so useful at fighting infection and healing damage from a cut can actually start to cause damage in chronic inflammation. 


What has sugar got to do with this?  Foods whose sugars are quickly absorbed into the blood stream without fiber to slow them down cause an inflammatory state.  Too many of these foods all the time can lead to chronic inflammation.  In fact, having insulin resistance is an inflammatory state. 


Chronic inflammation is associated with many chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and stroke.  Reversing chronic inflammation can dramatically reduce your risk of developing those diseases.


So what can you do about this right now?  There is a simple way to know which foods containing carbohydrates will cause a sudden spike in blood sugar and which carbohydrates will release the sugar into the bloodstream more slowly.  It is called the glycemic index. 


And actually, when considering a healthy carbohydrate, you want to look at the glycemic load of that food which takes into account the volume of that food in a normal serving.  Eventually you will come to know which foods have a higher glycemic load than others, but to get started, here’s a helpful guide from Harvard.  I’ll put this link in the notes below this video and the transcript.


So that’s how sugar can have an impact on cancer.  If you are interested in more information about breast cancer, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle changes, be sure to visit my website and blog at LisaSchwartzMD.com or subscribe to my You Tube channel at Lisa Schwartz, MD.  Thanks for your time and attention.  Have a fantastic week and I’ll see you next time.


Link to Harvard's guide to the glycemic index:  Click here.


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