The Onco-Metabolic Syndrome: the Link between Blood Sugar and Cancer

Metabolic syndrome is a constellation of symptoms that have been linked to increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In the last decade, cancer has been added to the list of increased risks.

The symptoms that make up the metabolic syndrome are:

  • Impaired ability to regulate blood sugar (glucose) and insulin
  • Increased waist size (women > 35 in., men > 40 in.)
  • Increased fasting glucose
  • Increased triglycerides
  • Low HDL
  • Elevated blood pressure

You may have heard the saying “sugar feeds cancer” – what that means is that blood sugar levels, insulin and insulin-like growth factors influence cancer. Whenever your blood sugar rises your body produces insulin and insulin-like-growth factor 1 (IGF-1). These growth hormones have also been found to promote the growth of solid tumors in the breast, lung, and prostate.

Across the board, cancer mortality is higher in those with metabolic syndrome, increasing with the more symptoms one has.

How does metabolic syndrome influence cancer?

  • Increases risk of recurrence
  • Increases risk of post operative/post treatment complications
  • Increases inflammation
  • Influences immune response
  • Increases circulating estrogens

Blood sugar levels are important because advanced cancers consume more glucose to keep up with their rapid growth spurt. To make matter worse, high levels of insulin and IGF-1 can block chemical activities in the body making cancer cells less responsive to chemotherapy. For hormonally related cancers, such as breast, endometrial or uterine cancer, IGF-1 can stimulate estrogen receptors on cancer cells.

To reduce elevated insulin and blood glucose, consume low-glycemic index foods so that blood glucose levels are minimally raised. The glycemic index tells you how fast a particular food (carbohydrate) raises the blood sugar level. The glycemic load of a meal takes into account all of the foods in a particular meal. For example, sometimes eating higher glycemic foods along with lower glycemic foods can blunt the rise in blood glucose when eaten together.

Tips on lowering insulin and IGF-1

  • Eat low glycemic index/load foods. Refer to this list for foods that meet this criteria:
  • Avoid or limit refined carbohydrates (starchy foods).
  • Because IGF-1 in animal meats and fats is identical to IGF-1 in humans, eliminate red meat, poultry, and dairy to reduce your personal IGF-1.
  • Increase fiber in your diet.
  • Add healthy fat, protein, and lemon or vinegar to help lower glycemic index and load of a meal.
  • Get plenty of exercise to lower blood sugar, insulin, and ILG-F.
  • Reduce stress since high stress levels promote cortisol and insulin production.

Examples of high glycemic index foods

  • Glucose: 100
  • Table Sugar (sucrose): 65
  • Whole Wheat Bread: 74
  • Instant Oatmeal : 79
  • Cornflakes: 81
  • Boiled Potato: 78

Know your numbers. Ask your doctor to check your fasting blood glucose and insulin levels. Most doctors consider a normal glucose level to be between 70-100 mg/dL, but between 70-80 mg/dL is optimal. Levels above 100 mg/dL might indicate prediabetes or even full-blown diabetes. Insulin can help your doctor check for insulin resistance.

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