“A sweetener’s not-so-sweet effects” – corn syrup in soft drinks enhances tumour growth

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(Siobhán Dunphy/ European Scientist) —Obesity is known to increase the risk of developing cancer, including colorectal cancer. Now, a new study published on 22 March in Science suggests high-fructose corn syrup, a sweetener used in many soft drinks, might actually speed up tumour growth in the colon, independent of obesity.

Drinking large amounts of sugary drinks leads to obesity, but can soft drinks increase cancer growth in non-obese people?

The researchers, led by Dr Jihye Yun, an assistant professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor University in the US, first created a mouse model of early-stage colon cancer by deleting the Adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) gene ― around 80 per cent of human colon tumours are linked to a mutations in the APC gene. WIthout the APC gene, colorectal cells don’t know when to stop growing, leading to the formation of a polyp or early-stage tumour.

Then, they fed the genetically modified mice sugar-sweetened water ― containing 25 per cent high-fructose corn syrup composed of both glucose and fructose ― to see how it would affect tumour growth. Mice permitted to freely consume the sugary drink rapidly gained weight within one month. Whereas, those fed only around one-tenth of a teaspoon a day ― equivalent to one can of soda ― did not gain weight. But interestingly, there was no difference in the development of tumours between the sugar drinking mice and control mice (water only). However, after two months, tumours in the sugar-fed mice had become larger and more invasive. (…)

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