The concept of cancer cells living off sugar has grown in recent years from just a functional medicine legend into mainstream science. Apparently, cancer does more than just grab a few morsels of glucose from the bloodstream like other cells. Scientists uncovered mechanisms by which mouse leukemia cells diverted glucose away from the body’s other cells, thus stealing this energy source and taking their unfair share.
In simple terms, they turn down normal cells’ ability to take up glucose from the blood and also turn down insulin production through gut dysbiosis. The first mechanism involved leukemia inducing higher levels of IGFBP1 (insulin like growth factor binding protein 1) from adipose cells. This protein induces a state of mild insulin resistance in other cells. The second mechanism involves a few more players. By creating a change in gut bacteria, serotonin from the gut that is necessary for insulin production, is down-regulated. With less insulin, the blood glucose level runs higher, again feeding the leukemia cells.
Perhaps even more intriguing was the countering therapy that they tested on these mice. They counteracted the lower gut serotonin production by simply supplementing serotonin in the diet. To counteract the other mechanism, they supplemented tributyrin, a fatty acid from butter or other foods. This replaced the short chain fatty acids that the leukemia had decreased. When given to the mice, ½ of those that received this simple therapy were still alive when the untreated group had all died.
Although we at Sanctuary let other functional medicine oncologists treat active cancer, we do recognize the importance of sugar and gut bacteria in health. High sugar intake is inflammatory for our bodies and apparently could augment cancer’s ability to grow in our bodies. Gut dysbiosis (imbalance in the bacteria living in our colons) affects insulin sensitivity, neurotransmitters, and can even contribute to systemic diseases (both autoimmune and neurodegenerative). We also love simple therapy approaches which can restore the natural functioning of our bodies.
Together with the other aspects of whole person care foundational to functional medicine, we strive to help our patients live healthier more abundant lives.