We’ve seen and heard a lot in the media recently about sugar. It is interesting that the focus has shifted from fats. I don’t intend to follow the herd and discuss sugar in the same way. However, I will look at sugar in relation to cancer.

Several new landmark studies into the causes and progression of cancer suggest that it is an everyday occurrence that is a contributing factor. This puts the suggestion of ‘bad luck’, as circulated by a medical person last year, to bed. We do need to look at our lifestyles. Instead, it looks at the fact that 70 to 90 per cent of cancers are the direct result of actions we choose to make. For example, the food we eat, what we smoke, or how much alcohol we drink.

The researchers from Stony Brook University Cancer Centre in New York ran four computer models, which included health profiles and population data. In each case the data pointed to a similar result: cancer has very little to do with bad genes (Nature, 2015).

Two further important studies have revealed that sugar is a huge trigger in cancer. Eating processed foods, cakes and drinking sugary colas adds even more bullets to the barrel of the Russian roulette we play with our lives. Interestingly, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist, Otto Warburg, observed more than 80 years ago that sugar can encourage the start of cancer then feed the cancer cells and help them to grow and spread.

In a further study it was noted by researchers that women with breast cancer were more likely to die of the disease if they also had high levels of insulin. The reason was that insulin had helped the cancer grow and spread. Alarmingly, none of the 125 women in the study had type 2 diabetes, which is the typical result of insulin resistance and the endpoint of a fast food diet.

In a further study, the process became clearer. Researchers noted that glucose (the form of sugar in our blood) provides the biological pathways that help cancer cells to grow and spread (Cancer Cell, 2015).

The key is to ensure that if we are going to have ‘bad’ sugars, make sure they are few and far between so that they can be processed by the pancreas

As we know, insulin is produced by the pancreas to break down sugars in carbohydrates. Our body needs sugar to survive; however, there are good and bad carbohydrates, just like there are good and bad fats. The bad carbohydrates have high sugar levels and are found in refined and processed foods. The good carbohydrates such as grains, vegetables, fruit and beans, provide us with ‘slow burn’ sugars. These don’t cause a sudden spike in insulin levels. This is what causes issues with the pancreas in the long term, although the pancreas is capable of handling these sudden spikes from refined carbohydrates (also known as simple carbohydrates), once in a while.

If the diet is constantly full of processed foods, it will require the pancreas to work overtime. This means that it has to produce high levels of insulin constantly on a daily basis, depending on what and how often you eat it.

Eventually, someone on a regular diet such as this becomes hyperglycaemic (this means that they have excess glucose in their blood), at which point they are usually diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. As new studies reveal, they also increase the risk of cancer, and a cancer that can grow and spread quickly, which will prove fatal.

All this was predicted by the German doctor and chemist Otto Warburg, whose research into cellular respiration (oxygenation) earned him the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1931. As part of the research carried out all those years ago, he also discovered that cancer cells are anaerobic (they don’t require oxygen); instead they use fermented sugar as an energy source.

However, despite acknowledgement of his work, nobody actually believed that cancer cells thrive on sugar. Warburg spent the next 40 years, until his death in 1970, trying to convince the medical industry (and the cancer industry in particular) that he was right. How very sad.

Despite the compelling evidence, the sceptics remain as entrenched as ever, claiming that such talk is scaremongering and overly simplistic. This thinking is most likely behind the policy at one UK cancer hospital where, after chemotherapy, they offer cake to patients.

There are many lessons to be learned from this new research.  Once again, we need to take a long hard look at our diets. The key is to ensure that if we are going to have ‘bad’ sugars, make sure they are few and far between so that they can be processed by the pancreas. Ideally, avoid them altogether. In addition, if someone is suffering from cancer, it seems clear that they should avoid any processed foods and bad carbohydrates for the reasons already explained.