It's estimated that the average American eats almost his or her entire body weight in sugar every year. Cancer cells love sugar. It's their preferred fuel. The more sugar you eat, the faster cancer cells grow. Your pancreas responds to sugar by releasing insulin, the hormone that escorts sugar into your cells. When you eat refined simple sugars, such as white table sugar, candy, cookies, or other sugar-laden foods, your blood sugar levels rise very quickly. Your pancreas responds by releasing a lot of insulin. That's not good. High insulin levels are one of the biggest risk factors and promoters of breast cancer. Women with high insulin levels have a 283 percent greater risk of breast cancer.
When it comes to breast cancer, insulin is no friend. One of the biggest reasons is due to the fact that both normal breast cells and cancer cells have insulin receptors on them. When insulin attaches to its receptor, it has the same effect as when estrogen attaches to its receptor; it causes cells to start dividing. The higher your insulin levels are, the faster your breast cells will divide; the faster they divide, the higher your risk of breast cancer is and the faster any existing cancer cells will grow.
There's also another detriment that high insulin levels can inflict. It makes more estrogen available to attach to the estrogen receptors in breast tissue. Insulin regulates how much of the estrogen in your blood is available to attach to estrogen receptors in your breast tissue. When estrogen travels in the blood, it either travels alone seeking an estrogen receptor, or it travels with a partner, a protein binder, that prevents it from attaching to an estrogen receptor. Insulin regulates the number of protein binders in the blood. So, the higher your insulin levels are, the fewer the number of protein binders there will be and therefore the more free estrogen that will be available to attach to estrogen receptors.
In other words, when your insulin levels are up, free-estrogen levels are up, and both of them speed up cell division. That's why high insulin levels increase your risk of breast cancer so much. Eating sugar increases your risk of breast cancer in another way. It delivers a major blow to your immune system with the force of a prize fighter. Your immune system is your natural defense against such invaders as bacteria, viruses and cancer cells. Research shows that right after you eat a high-sugar meal, your immune system function drops drastically. Sugar decreases T lymphocyte (a type of white blood cell), function by 50-94 percent. This effect lasts for a minimum of five hours. This means that right after you've eaten a lot of sugar, your body's ability to fight off invaders or destroy cancer cells is tremendously weakened for several hours.
Over a period of time, eating too much sugar can create imbalances that lead to two more deadly diseases: obesity and diabetes. Both of these diseases dangerously increase your risk of breast cancer and their rates have alarmingly increased in the United States in the past two decades. An estimated 60 percent of the adult population are overweight and 5 percent have diabetes. Of those people who have diabetes, 90 percent are also overweight. Not only do these diseases increase your risk of breast cancer, but they also increase your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, poor circulation, stroke and infection.
A study conducted by Harvard Medical School (2004) found that women who ate high-glycemic foods that increase blood glucose levels as teenagers had a higher incidence of breast cancer later in life. So, encouraging your teenage daughter to cut back on sugar will help her to lower her risk of breast cancer for the rest of her life.
If you have a sweet tooth, you'll be relieved to know that you don't have to deprive yourself. There are a several natural sweeteners that taste great, and better yet, research has shown that instead of being dangerous to your health, they actually have several wonderful health-supporting qualities: Stevia lowers blood pressure and blood sugar in type 2 diabetics; Luo Han Guo alleviates coughs, sore throats, and upper respiratory-tract infections; Xylitol reduces bone loss, plaque on teeth, dental caries, infections in the mouth and nasopharynx, and promotes remineralization of tooth enamel.
Christine Horner, MD is a nationally recognized surgeon, professional speaker, expert in natural health and the author of the new book, "Waking the Warrior Goddess: Dr Christine Horner's Program to Protect Against and Fight Breast Cancer" (Basic Books; 2005). For more information visit: www.drchristinehorner.com