Marcus Goncalves

April 22, 2019

Cornell Research Finds Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Come with a Price

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It may be time to consider avoiding sugary drinks once and for all. According to Prof. Marcus Goncalves, a clinical endocrinologist at Weill Cornell Medical Center, high-fructose corn syrup, a key component in many sweetened beverages, promotes tumor growth in mice that have been predisposed to colon cancer and may have implications in human cancer as well.

In a collaboration with Dr. Jihye Yun from Baylor College of Medicine and Dr. Lewis Cantley, from Weill Cornell Medicine, Goncalves designed an experiment where excess sugar was fed to mice that had been predisposed to developing intestinal tumors.

Goncalves said that putting sugar in a water bottle and giving mice free access to the concoction caused the mice to excessively drink the sugar. Fifty percent of their calories intake in their diets come from sugar. Additionally, the mice had less fiber and lower overall nutritional absorption, leading to obesity and metabolic dysfunction.

Goncalves and his team came up with a different experimental design where mice were given “[a] single oral dose of sugar that is equivalent to a 12oz portion of sugar-sweetened beverage that a human would consume.”

“Feeding mice a modest amount of sugar in the form of high-fructose corn syrup leads to an increase in intestinal tumor growth,” Goncalves said.

Goncalves explained that colon and intestinal tumors often start as small polyps that remain benign for a long time.

“This is an important study that actually shows a direct mechanism of how sugar impacts tumor growth and this should be communicated as far and wide as possible in order to get this warning signal out that patients with this specific type of cancer should actively be avoiding high-fructose corn syrup,” Goncalves said.

Goncalves and his team are trying to lobby the Food and Drug Administration to take their research into account when creating dietary recommendations. They had made some inquiries to the FDA, suggesting the agency put out a warning that “sugar-sweetened beverages can promote the growth of intestinal tumors and colon tumors,” Goncalves said.

According to Goncalves, the main limitation of their research is that they do not have direct evidence of high-fructose corn syrup’s impact on humans yet; however, there is a lot of evidence that suggests this impact.

“[Our research] provides a very strong case that, at the very least, patients with colorectal cancer should actively be avoiding the consumption of sugar in liquid form,” Goncalves said.

Goncalves and his colleagues are continuing to research the best strategies to translate their findings to humans. The team is eager to colorectal clinicians around the world and provide human clinical data to support their findings from the animal models.

The study was conducted with the highest amount of rigor that the team could achieve and Goncalves believes that it will have impactful applications.

“We want to come up with the best strategy to translate these findings to humans which would relieve any concern that people have about animal models,” Goncalves said.