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Aug 2010 Refined Fructose Promotes Pancreatic Cancer Growth


Glucose and fructose have been mostly considered as interchangeable monosaccharide substrates that are similarly metabolized and, so far, little attention has been given to sugars other than glucose. However, the fact that refined fructose intake has increased dramatically in recent decades provokes an interest for its impact on human health. Sources of fructose in the Western diet include cane sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a sweetener that has been on the market since about 1970. Because it is inexpensive, easy to transport and keeps food moist, HFCS is by far the most frequently used sweetener in American soft drinks and food. In light of this fact, a study on implication of fructose on cancer growth has been done at UCLA Cancer Center, California. The results showed that the refined fructose provides an alternative substrate to induce cancer cell proliferation. For pancreatic cancer, fructose showed even more powerful growth than glucose.

On the other hand a small amount of fructose, such as the amount found in most vegetables and fruits, is not a bad thing because human body can handle it quite well. Moreover, fruits have protective factors that may counter the risks of consuming fructose, such as fiber and antioxidants. Fruits are times and again found to be protective in numerous studies. It is the refined fructose which may pose a risk.


Main text:

Although it is widely known that cancers use glucose, a simple sugar, to fuel their growth, a link between fructose and cancer proliferation has been shown recently. A study, by researchers at UCLA’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, found that pancreatic cancers use the sugar fructose, very common in the Western diet, to activate a key cellular pathway that drives cell division, helping the cancer grow more quickly [1]. In this experimental study one set of pancreatic tumor cells was treated with glucose, and another set of tumor cells with fructose. Using mass spectrometry, it has been detected that the cancer cells could easily distinguish between glucose and fructose molecules which are very similar structurally. In contrast to conventional opinion, the cancer cells metabolized the sugars in different ways. Fructose was a stronger growth promoter than glucose. In the case of fructose, the pancreatic cancer cells used the sugar in the transketolase-driven non-oxidative pentose phosphate pathway to generate nucleic acids which the cancer cells need to divide and proliferate. According to the authors these results have shown for the first time a link between refined fructose and cancer multiplication. Moreover, researchers believe that the finding may not be unique only to this type of cancer.


In spite of the fact that fructose is a fruit sugar, consuming refined sugar products is not the same as consuming whole fruits. The modern diet contains a lot of refined sugar including fructose. Refined sugars cause sugar peaks in the blood. This is a hidden danger implicated in a lot of modern diseases, such as obesity, diabetes and cancer. Reducing or eliminating their consumption will inhibit fructose-mediated actions and likely help disrupt cancer growth. This is in line with studies showing increased cancer risks for people with higher blood sugar levels, independent of degree of overweight.

By: Svetlana Obradovic and Luuk Simons

[1] Liu, H., D. Huang, D. L. McArthur, L. G. Boros, et. al. (2010). Fructose induces transketolase flux to promote pancreatic cancer growth. Cancer Research 70 pp. 6368-76.



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