Excessive Sugar and Lack of Preventive Measures Threaten World with Disastrous Levels of Heart Disease and Cancer

Cancer Treatment

Story at-a-glance

  • According to latest World Cancer Report, cancer is typically a preventable disease, and more resources must be dedicated to preventive lifestyle changes
  • The report predicts worldwide cancer rates to rise by 57 percent in the next two decades
  • Cancer rates can be addressed by promoting preventive lifestyle strategies such as diet, exercise, quitting smoking, and reducing alcohol consumption
  • Research shows those who consume 21 percent or more of daily calories in the form of sugar are TWICE as likely to die from heart disease compared to those who get seven percent or less from added sugar
  • The risk was nearly TRIPLED among those who consumed 25 percent of their daily calories from added sugar


This is an older article that may not reflect Dr. Mercola’s current view on this topic. Use our search engine to find Dr. Mercola’s latest position on any health topic.

By Dr. Mercola

The latest World Cancer Report,1 issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), predicts worldwide cancer rates to rise by 57 percent in the next two decades.

Rightfully, the report refers to such predictions as "an imminent human disaster," noting countries around the world need to renew their focus on prevention rather than treatment only. Christopher Wild, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer told CNN:2

"We cannot treat our way out of the cancer problem. More commitment to prevention and early detection is desperately needed in order to complement improved treatments and address the alarming rise in cancer burden globally."

Besides the death toll, there's also the financial cost of treating cancer. According to the report, the worldwide cost for cancer treatment was estimated at $1.16 trillion in 2010.

Half of All Cancers Are Preventable

As reported by CNN:3 "The report said about half of all cancers were preventable and could have been avoided if current medical knowledge was acted upon." This includes promoting preventive lifestyle strategies such as:

  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Quitting smoking
  • Reducing alcohol consumption

Not surprisingly, the report also included screening programs and vaccines as means to curb cancer rates, but it's important to remember that screening is not actually prevention. Once you're screened and find you have cancer, the window of prevention has long passed...

And "anti-cancer vaccines" such as the HPV vaccine is a dubious strategy at best, as the "prevention" comes with huge, potentially life threatening, risks. Such risks simply do not factor into the equation when you're talking about preventive strategies like diet and exercise.

Cutting smoking rates could have a significant impact, as lung cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer worldwide, accounting for 13 percent of all cancer diagnoses. It also accounts for one-fifth of all cancer deaths worldwide. Following lung cancer is breast cancer, accounting for nearly 12 percent of cancer diagnoses.

Connection Between Sugar and Chronic Disease Strengthened by New Research

A recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Internal Medicine4 examined the associations between added sugar consumption and cardiovascular disease (CVD) deaths. The study did not include naturally occurring sugars in the diet, focusing only on added sugars. The study, which thankfully has met with robust media coverage,5, 6, 7, 8 found that:

  • Among American adults, mean percentage of daily calories from added sugar increased from 15.7 percent in 1988-1994 to 16.8 percent in 1999-2004
  • Mean percentage of daily calories from added sugar decreased to 14.9 percent in 2005-2010
  • Most adults (just over 71 percent) get 10 percent or more of their daily calories from added sugar
  • Approximately 10 percent of American adults got 25 percent or more of their daily calories from added sugar in 2005-2010
  • The most common sources of added sugar are sugar-sweetened beverages, grain-based desserts, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, and candy

Americans get, on average, about 350 calories a day (equivalent to about 22 teaspoons of sugar and 25 percent of their daily calories) from added sugar in the diet. According to this study, those who consume 21 percent or more of their daily calories in the form of sugar are TWICE as likely to die from heart disease compared to those who get seven percent or less or their daily calories from added sugar.

The risk was nearly TRIPLED among those who consumed 25 percent of their daily calories from added sugar. At present, about 600,000 Americans die of heart disease each year,9 and it's the leading cause of death among both sexes. Not surprisingly, the authors concluded that:

"Most US adults consume more added sugar than is recommended for a healthy diet. We observed a significant relationship between added sugar consumption and increased risk for CVD mortality."

How Much Sugar Is in Your Typical Meal?

The featured study suggests you should restrict your added sugar consumption to 10 percent or less of your daily calories, which is in line with recommendations from both WHO and the American Heart Association.

Personally, I believe most people—considering one in four Americans have either diabetes or prediabetes, and an estimated 80 percent have insulin and leptin resistance—would be wise to restrict their sugar consumption even further. And for those with insulin and leptin resistance I believe grains need to be added to that list as they are very rapidly converted to sugar.

As discussed in a recent NPR program,10, 11 featuring NPR correspondent Allison Aubrey, much of this added sugar is hidden. You may not even realize just how much sugar you're eating, as many foods typically considered "healthy" can contain surprising amounts of added sugar or fructose, typically in the form of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Clinical trials have shown that those who consume HFCS tend to develop higher risk factors for cardiovascular disease within as little as two weeks, so if I had to pick out the worst culprit among sugars, it would be fructose. Many favorite staples are also grain-based, such as bagels, pancakes, and breakfast cereals. All those grains are also quickly turned into sugar in your body, adding to your sugar burden.

One way to guesstimate your risk is by answering just one simple question: Do you regularly eat processed foods, i.e. foods that come in a can, jar, box, or other wrapper? If you do, you may be consuming amounts that put you in a higher risk category. As a general rule, the only foods that will not have added sugar are whole foods—fresh produce and animal products that have not undergone any type of processing or alteration from their natural state. As stated by Aubrey:

"[G]iven that more than three-quarters of all processed foods out there contain added sugar, one way is to cut back on the amount of processed foods you eat. And, yeah, the other big way is to start reading those labels. If I had stopped at Starbucks on the way in this morning and gotten a blueberry muffin, I'd have consumed 29 grams of sugar. That's about the same amount of sugar as you'd find in a regular Snickers bar... [I]t can be kind of surprising how much sugar is added to the food that we... regularly consume for breakfast."

It can be tricky to figure out exactly how much sugar you're getting. Reading labels is your best bet if you feel you must purchase a processed food. Four grams of sugar is equivalent to about one teaspoon, and I strongly recommend limiting your daily sugar intake to 25 grams or less from ALL sources, including fresh fruits. That equates to just over six teaspoons of sugar a day, which is a far cry from the typical American, who consumes an average of 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day. If you're among the 80 percent majority who have insulin or leptin resistance, you'd be wise to restrict your total fructose consumption to 15 grams per day, until you've normalized your insulin and leptin levels.

Tips for Reducing Your Added Sugar Intake

As just mentioned, the easiest way to dramatically cut down on your sugar and fructose consumption is to switch to a diet of whole, unprocessed foods, as most of the added sugar you end up with comes from processed fare, not from adding a teaspoon of sugar to your tea or coffee. But there are other ways to cut down well. This includes:

  • Cutting back on the amount of sugar you personally add to your food and drink
  • Using Stevia or Lo Han instead of sugar and/or artificial sweeteners. You can learn more about the best and worst of sugar substitutes in my previous article, "Sugar Substitutes—What's Safe and What's Not"
  • Using fresh fruit in lieu of canned fruit or sugar for meals or recipes calling for a bit of sweetness
  • Using spices instead of sugar to add flavor to your meal

Diet and Exercise—Potent Allies Against Cancer and Heart Disease

I believe controlling your blood-glucose and insulin levels—through diet, along with a comprehensive exercise program—are the most crucial components for disease prevention on the whole, but particularly for the prevention of cancer and heart disease. In fact, a recent meta-analysis that reviewed 305 randomized controlled trials found no statistically detectable differences between exercise and medications for heart disease, including statins and beta blockers.12 (Previous research has also shown that exercise alone can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by a factor of three.13)

Exercise is in fact so potent, the researchers suggested that drug companies ought to be required to include it for comparison when conducting clinical trials for new drugs. In a nutshell, being a healthy weight and exercising regularly creates a healthy feedback loop that optimizes and helps maintain insulin and leptin receptor sensitivity. And insulin and leptin resistance—primarily driven by excessive consumption of refined sugars and grains along with lack of exercise—are the underlying factors of nearly all chronic disease.

Reeling in Your Fructose Consumption May Be the Most Important Lifestyle Change You Can Make

Dr. Johnson has written one of the best books on the market on the health dangers of fructose, called The Sugar Fix, which explains how fructose causes high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and kidney disease. It's also safe to say that many cancers are also on the list of diseases that are directly linked to excessive fructose consumption. For example, fructose has been found to promote metastasis in breast cancer,14 and shows genotoxic effects on the colon in animal research.15

Fructose also promotes a condition called intracranial atherosclerosis16 — a narrowing and hardening of the arteries in your skull—and contrary to popular belief, it is the sugar/fructose in your diet that increases your risk for heart disease, NOT saturated animal fats.

At the basic dietary level, the prevention strategies for heart disease and cancer are identical. First and foremost, you need to address your insulin and leptin resistance, which is the result of eating a diet too high in sugars and grains. To safely and effectively reverse insulin and leptin resistance, thereby significantly reducing your risk of cancer, heart disease, and other chronic diseases—the most obvious of which is diabetes—you need to:

  1. Avoid processed sugar/fructose, grains, and processed foods
  2. Eat a healthful diet of whole foods, ideally organic, and replace the grain carbs with:
    • Large amounts of vegetables
    • Low-to-moderate amount of high-quality protein (think organically raised, pastured animals)
    • As much high-quality healthful fat as you want (saturated and monounsaturated from animal and tropical oil sources). Most people actually need upwards of 50-85 percent fats in their diet for optimal health—a far cry from the 10 percent currently recommended.

Take Control of Your Health to Avoid Becoming a Statistic

Research coming out of some of America's most respected institutions now confirms that sugar is a primary dietary factor driving chronic disease development. Sugar, and fructose in particular, has been implicated as a culprit in the development of both heart disease and cancer, and having this information puts you in the driver's seat when it comes to prevention... A diet that promotes health is high in healthful fats and very, very low in sugar and non-vegetable carbohydrates.

Understand that excessive sugar/fructose consumption leads to insulin resistance, and insulin resistance appears to be the root of many if not most chronic disease. So far, scientific studies have linked excessive fructose consumption to about 78 different diseases and health problems,17 including heart disease and cancer. To help you get started, please review my free optimized nutrition plan, which also includes exercise recommendations, starting at the beginner's level and going all the way up to advanced.


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