What interested me the most about this study was that it strongly contradicted what the mighty marketing arm of the food industry wants us to believe; that is, that one of their key ingredients, high fructose corn syrup - or HFCS - is harmless - "So enjoy!"
In the study, published in the August 1 issue of Cancer Research, researchers at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center UCLA reported that fructose - including HFCS - may cause pancreatic cancer. The researchers found pancreatic cancers use fructose to trigger a key cellular pathway that guides cell division, accelerating cancer cell proliferation.
While it has long been known that cancers use simple sugars like glucose to grow, Anthony Heaney, senior author of this new study, and associate professor of medicine and neurosurgery, said this is the first time researchers have found a link between fructose and cancer proliferation. Fructose, the researchers found, has a more profound affect than glucose in fueling cancer growth. Because it is so much cheaper for food manufacturers to use HFCS than cane sugar, we find it in an astounding number of foods ranging from soups to snacks; even many foods labeled as "natural."
Let's face it; Americans have a collective sweet tooth. It starts early when sugar-coated pacifiers are given to crying babies and toddlers are handed fists-full of cookies so they'll behave in shopping malls. Combined with advertising for sugar-laden cereal directed at children watching cartoons, it's no wonder many of them grow into adults walking around with bottles of carbonated belly-wash - super-sized sweetened soft drinks - that look like they're permanently cemented to their hand.
In a recent article of mine that appeared on the Huffington Post, I wrote that "The increased consumption of refined sugar can have serious health consequences, including a greater vulnerability to cancer, with growing evidence of an even worse outcome. (See "Avoiding Refined Sugar Helps Prevent Breast Cancer Recurrence.").
Well, according to this study, when it comes to pancreatic cancer, fructose is an even bigger villain than glucose.
The pancreas is a large elongated exocrine gland located in the upper left area of the abdomen behind the stomach, that reaches across to the small bowel. It produces and secretes hormones (including insulin) and pancreatic juice that aid in digestion and metabolism and help to regulate glucose and energy. It has been previously shown that the pancreas has a harder time metabolizing fructose than glucose and other sugars.
Because of the pancreas' deep location, tumors are rarely discernible by pressing on the abdomen. Many symptoms of pancreatic cancer often do not appear until the tumor grows large enough to interfere with the function of other organs such as the stomach, liver, and gallbladder. Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer include jaundice (a yellowing of the eyes and skin), abdominal or back pain, weight loss and poor appetite, digestive problems, gallbladder enlargement, blood clots or fatty tissue abnormalities and neuroendocrine tumors - caused by the excess hormones that the tumors release into the bloodstream.
Current statistics on survival are disheartening. According to the American Cancer Society's 2004 Cancer Facts and Figures, only 4 percent of pancreatic cancer patients survive for five years or more.
Dr. Heaney wrote that the study has profound public health implications. "Hopefully, at the federal level there will be some effort to step back on the amount of high fructose corn syrup in our diets," he said. I won’t hold my breath! Don't expect - at least not in our lifetimes - food manufacturers to converge en-masse on grocery stores and junk their junk food.
So far, I haven't seen a response to this study from the food industry, but I expect one is coming. I'm sure there are clumps of marketing execs (and lawyers) huddled around tables burning the midnight oil strategizing on how to respond – all the while gobbling down their own sweet concoctions for that artificial boost of energy. And when their response does come, I suspect they will say this is only one study that conflicts with their OWN research, and/or deflect the study and say American's have a "right to choose what they eat."
And, they're right, we do; we do have the right to choose a dietary path that leads to pancreatic and other cancers, heart disease and diabetes. But, do they have the right to shove us in these directions by misleading us? We, as a society have a vote – you and I have a vote - in this matter. It's called the shopping cart.
Dr. Block’s Tips:
Avoid Foods Containing HFCS:
- Bread and other baked goods: muffins, doughnuts, cookies, cakes, pies
- Tomato products: pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce, ketchup and BBQ sauce
- Processed foods: macaroni and cheese, lunch meat, nutrition bars, candy
- Sweetened yogurts
- Salad dressing
- Fast food
- Canned fruit
- Baked goods & desserts
- Soft drinks, fruit punch and sports drinks
- Beverages: bottled juices, drink pouches, frozen concentrates, lemonade and sweetened iced teas
- Most sweetened yogurts
- Most salad dressings
- Ice cream
- Cough medicine
Read Food and Beverage Labels:
- HFCS can be found in foods that don’t even taste sweet
- The word “natural” is not regulated by the FDA, so this term on a product package does not guarantee that it is free of HFCS
- Only if labeled 100% organic will the food be free of HFCS, because there is no organic HFCS available. Yet.
Choose Lower Glycemic Fruits: