(CN) – There might be another reason to avoid sugary drinks, according to a study released Thursday that links high-fructose corn syrup to colon cancer – at least in the case of several lab mice who experienced tumor growth after just two months of sipping sugary water daily.
According to the study published in the journal Science, drinks sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup can not only lead to obesity but also speed the growth of intestinal tumors.
Researchers began their study by removing a specific gene that inhibits normal cell growth in the intestines of a group of research mice, mimicking a gene mutation shared by a majority of humans with colon or rectal cancer. Removing the gene allowed for the formation of polyps in the intestines of the mice.
The researchers found that drinking even a small amount of soda can boost tumor growth in animals.
“In humans, it usually takes 20 to 30 years for colorectal cancer to grow from early-stage benign tumors to aggressive cancers,” said Jihye Yun, assistant professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor University.
In the study, mice who were fed a moderate amount of sugary water through a syringe once a day developed tumors that were larger and of higher grade than mice who were only given regular water. The mice also had high amounts of fructose and glucose in their colons and blood, respectively, and tumors efficiently took advantage of that in order to grow fatty acids and become larger.
Adding insult to injury, mice that could freely drink sugary water from a bottle gained weight.
Professor of cancer biology Lewis Cantley from the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine said, “While many studies have correlated increased rates of colorectal cancer with diet, this study shows a direct molecular mechanism for the correlation between consumption of sugar and colorectal cancer.”
The study’s observation in the animal models could offer an explanation as to why there has been an increase in colorectal cancers reported in 25 to 50-year-olds in the United States, given Americans’ voracious appetite for sweet drinks and sugary foods in the last three decades.
Further gene coding broke down the mice into separate groups, like the group that lacked the enzyme for fructose metabolism or the enzyme that breaks down fatty acids, in an effort to see if there was any other explanation for the tumor growth. But the study found the mice were all fed the same amount of sugary water and when allowed to grow unimpeded, the tumors thrived on the high-fructose corn syrup.
The study authors say this can open new avenues for treatment.
“Unlike glucose, fructose is not essential for the survival and growth of normal cells, which suggests that therapies targeting fructose metabolism are worth exploring,” said Yun. “Alternatively, avoiding consuming sugary drinks as much as possible instead of relying on drugs would significantly reduce the availability of sugar in the colon.”
Funding for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health, Stand Up 2 Cancer, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and the National Cancer Institute.