Several times I felt that there is a connection between too much sugar and subsequent outbreaks or worsening of my eczema.
In the anti-inflammatory diet, sugar is one of the biggest culprits, affecting blood sugar levels and pancreatic insulin production. If the body does not constantly regulate the blood’s sugar content with insulin, the result is damage to the body’s cells.
This study was made by researchers from Rigshospitalet in Denmark and the University of Copenhagen and shows that sugar has a destructive and inflammatory effect on the body’s cells. The study shows that eczema is often the result of inflammation in the body and therefore it is a good idea to reduce its sugar intake as much as possible.
On the web, one often reads that sugar can be bad for people with eczema skin. Below is a typical description of how sugar can cause problems in the body and especially the skin.
Or in the article Bodyweight management.
Sugar affects your skin in three significant ways:
- It Spikes Insulin: high levels of sugar cause insulin spikes and those can trigger an inflammatory immune-system response just like cat hair or the synthetic perfume in your cosmetics. And while you might find you have an immediate reaction to sweets or sugary drinks that manifests itself as itchiness and redness, high amounts of sugar in your diet can also exacerbate chronic inflammation, meaning that the problem drags on long-term.
- It Affects Gut Flora: a diet high in sugar knocks the healthy balance of flora in your gut out of whack, because it encourages the growth of harmful sugar-loving yeasts etc. That also reduces the absorption of the healthy nutrients your body needs and affects the efficiency of the immune system, so that the body struggles to respond appropriately to triggers, again leading to chronic inflammation.
- It Ages Skin: the higher the glucose levels in the blood, the more the body produces substances called AGE (advanced glycation endproducts) which prevent the skin from repairing and regenerating itself as well as it could. This could mean that skin damage from scratching at eczema patches takes longer to heal, and that the skin barrier is less effective than it could be, letting in allergens and losing moisture, leading to – you guessed it! – yet more itchiness, dryness and cracked skin.
Cancer loves sugars
Researchers have long known that various cancers absorb glucose like a sponge. The German physiologist Otto Warburg discovered that tumors absorb glucose at a rate that is 20-50 times higher than normal cells. It awarded him the Nobel Prize in 1931 for his research into metabolism.
Studies suggest that it is not so much the amount of glucose in the bloodstream that promotes cancer, but the level of insulin. This hormone is made in the pancreas and regulates the sugar content in the blood. Insulin can convert glucose into instant energy and help your body store it in the fat cells and muscles. When you eat sweet things, your blood sugar rises; this causes your pancreas to say, “Hey! we need to make more insulin! ”Insulin tells cells to let in the glucose, either to be used immediately or stored in muscle, fat cells and in the liver.
Why do cancerous tumors absorb more glucose? The main reason is that insulin can turn on the glucose transporters (proteins on cell membranes that transport glucose into the cells). They correspond to those in the liver, muscles and fat cells. The presence of these glucose transporters on tumor cells is partially regulated by insulin. This is why it is important to focus on the amount of insulin in the bloodstream.
The enzyme called PI3K
Researcher Cantley began studying insulin receptor in the 1980s when he was on the faculty at Harvard University. A few years later, he discovered an enzyme called phosphoinositide-3-kinase (PI3K). It signals the cells that insulin is present and causes the cells to open the valve that lets in sugar. Usually, PI3K does a good and important job of helping cells survive, grow and multiply. But sometimes it goes awry. In type II diabetes, this PI3K pathway becomes dull, so the cells do not respond properly to insulin and become insulin resistant. But in cancer cells, even in a person who is insulin resistant, PI3K does its job a little too well. It causes glucose to flow in, tumor cells eat away at the sugar and grow faster.
In many cancers, the so-called sugar-loving cancers (not all cancers are dependent on sugar, but many are), PI3K is like a circuit breaker that drives growth. PI3K is the most frequently mutated carcinogenic gene in humans. It may be involved in up to 80 percent of cancer cases, including breast cancer, bladder cancer and certain brain tumors.
How can we use this knowledge ?
This scientific discovery tells us that we should probably try to keep our insulin levels as low as possible. Especially if you have cancer and want to prevent the tumor from growing. We can keep the diet under control and exercise to keep glucose and insulin levels low. Then we have a much better chance of slower growth of a possible tumor.
Or even better: Allways keep your insulin levels as low as possible, whether you have cancer or not. This is a strong potential cancer prevention mechanism. Reducing processed sugar in the diet may prove to be even more important for cancer prevention than previously thought.
Perhaps we can we learn to use the sweet tooth of cancer as a weapon against it? Research has already led to the development of several PI3K inhibitory drugs: Idelalisib, approved by the FDA in 2014 for the treatment of lymphoma and leukemia. And the drug Alpelisib, approved in 2019 for the treatment of breast cancer with mutations in PI3K. But researchers also believe that changing the diet to a low-sugar diet is important. But it should also be low in other carbohydrates, which can cause blood sugar to rise. That is called the LowCarb-diet and focuses in reducing the daily intake of carbohydrates to a maximum of 50 grams.
In another landmark research article from 2018, published in Nature, researchers showed the effect of a carbohydrate-reduced diet in mice. By limiting carbohydrates and thus keeping insulin levels low, cancerous tumors responded much more strongly to drugs already approved to treat the disease. Tumors that had never before been able to shrink in mice could now be reduced with a diet with a low glucose content.
Takeout for eczema patients
Now it is up to us eczema-fighters to use this knowledge to our advantage. If a lowcarb diet can both help eczema and have a protective effect against cancer, then it is just a matter of time, before more of us might start using the LowCarb diet as a daily guideline.