Sugarcoated Science: Dietary Sugar to Stop Skin Cancer?

by Kristina Brooks Editor

We’ve heard the long list of reasons of why artificial sugar is bad for us, but a new study suggests that a natural, dietary sugar may actually help stop the spread of melanoma.

Previously, changes in the amount of the L-fucose sugar were linked to breast and stomach cancers.

But when tampered with, the rare L-fucose (fyook-ose) sugar, typically found in seaweed, mushrooms, brewer’s yeast, and some other foods, can inhibit the spread of melanoma to other places in the body. During a recent study, researchers not only noticed an effect on the tumors, but that the small area of cells surrounding the tumor were also affected. This small area plays an important role because it has the power to protect and feed the cancer, making it more powerful. Changing the cells around a cancer may make it weaker.

It all boils down to a natural process known as fucosylation - a fancy word for what happens when proteins, often on cell surfaces, are modified by sugars such as L-fucose so that they can be used throughout the body. In mice with melanoma, researchers were able to boost fucosylation by adding the sugar to water, or through genetic manipulation. After increasing the sugar in the mice, both methods were able to inhibit the growth and spread of the melanoma tumors. Furthermore, cancer spread was reduced by 50 to 60 percent.

Researchers believe that in the absence of this L-fucose, melanoma cells after fucosylation are less “sticky.” This allows melanoma cells to flow more freely and spread to other places in the body. Adding L-fucose keeps the melanoma bound together - reducing the likelihood of spread and potentially making the cancer easier to target.

The results also suggest increasing dietary sugar may help by boosting immune cells. Currently, melanoma is the most dangerous form of cancer, with more than 200,000 cases being reported each year.

So could reducing the spread of certain cancers be as simple as adding this rare sugar into drinking water or through injections and IV? Or eating more seaweed or mushroom products? Probably not, but the results provide hope for potentially simple, and life-saving adjustments to future treatments for melanoma. The researchers plan to further explore the role of fucosylation and how sugar-coated cells can affect immunity and cancer.


Kristina Brooks
Meet Our Writer
Kristina Brooks

Kristina Brooks was a digital editor at HealthCentral with a background in animal biology, ecology, and health science. While studying broadcast journalism, she discovered the great need for health reporters that could translate research to the public. In her work, she hopes to use research to help consumers make smart decisions about their healthcare, and empower patients to stay confident and in charge of their chronic conditions. She helped launch HealthCentral's inaugural MythWeek.