Intellihealth’s Dr. Louis Aronne and Dr. Katherine Saunders talk with Dr. Lewis Cantley about the correlations between sugar, cancer, and weight.
Many people understand that a high-sugar diet can lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes, but few realize the connection between sugar, cancer, and weight.
Dr. Lewis Cantley is working to change that. As director of the Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine, he and his team are working to find more effective cancer treatments that involve lowering a person’s insulin levels.
Sugar and Obesity
In this episode of Weight Matters, Dr. Louis Aronne and Dr. Katherine Sanders talk with Dr. Cantley about the groundbreaking discoveries his team has made around insulin resistance, cancer treatment methods, and the PI3K enzyme. He also shares some practical applications of his research for anyone looking to manage their obesity or reduce their risk of cancer.
Sugars, specifically those containing fructose, are the most common cause of obesity, Dr. Cantley argued. This is partly because the more sugar you eat, the more insulin your body has to produce to regulate the glucose in your bloodstream. And insulin in turn causes cells to grow, including fat cells.
“Obesity is almost invariably a consequence of eating too much sugar. Most nutritionists will say, ‘Well if you eat too much of anything, you will become obese’ But sugar is the thing that causes obesity more than any other thing that you eat,” he shared.
Along with increased insulin production, a recent discovery has shown that eating sugar regularly causes the intestine to start absorbing 30% more of the calories you eat into the bloodstream.
“It’s not just the calories in the sugar that are making you gain weight, it’s the consequences of the sugar making the intestine absorb more food,” Dr. Cantley explained. “If you cut out sugar you can eliminate the mechanism… and that would be equivalent to reducing your calorie consumption per day by 30%.”
How Obesity Leads to Cancer
This means that when insulin levels increase — like they do in a person who eats a high-sugar diet — PI3K can activate and lead to the growth of cancerous cells.
The PI3K discovery helped explain a trend that researchers had noticed in the early 20th century, when cancer rates started to increase at an alarming rate.
“There was this dramatic correlation going on in the early part of the 20th century, of cancer rates going up dramatically,” Dr. Cantley shared. “And that perfectly correlated by about a 10-year lag with a tenfold increase in sugar consumption in Europe and in America. And in fact, areas of the world that did not adapt this western diet of high sugar consumption did not have these increases in cancer rates.”
Innovations in Cancer Treatment and Obesity Medicine
Dr. Cantley and his team are now working on a clinical trial that combines PI3K inhibitors with a low carbohydrate diet, and he believes it could offer an effective solution.
“By going on a very low carbohydrate diet, we’ve shown at least in mice, results in this drug being dramatically more effective. The tumors just melt away if we can keep the insulin levels down,” he shared. “Keeping insulin down and giving a PI3K inhibitor is much more effective than just keeping the insulin down.”
For individuals looking to reduce their risk of cancer or even to manage their obesity, Dr. Cantley recommends cutting out sugars with fructose, as well as artificial sweeteners.
“If you can avoid eating anything that tastes sweet for six weeks, then you can break the addiction to sugar,” he shared. “Except for people who may have severe metabolic disorders, particularly genetic predispositions, which some people do, everybody will lose weight if they can take all sweeteners out of their diet.”
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