Are Collagen Supplements Safe for Breast Cancer Survivors?

Are Collagen Supplements Safe for Breast Cancer Survivors?

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Are Collagen Supplements Safe for Breast Cancer Survivors?

I’ve been getting an increasing amount of questions about whether collagen supplements are safe for breast cancer survivors, and indeed, I’ve run across a few articles lately warning us about collagen supplementation. So today’s article is dedicated to shedding some light on the subject, and hopefully answering that question.
 
If you’ve noticed, there are a number of companies promoting collagen supplements at the moment. They are promoting it hard – like a new wonder drug – for better skin and nails, better hair (which I suspect is the reason people are asking me about collagen, to help them with hair loss due to breast cancer treatments), better gut health, for weight loss, and for its so-called anti-aging benefits.
 
But is it safe for breast cancer survivors? At first glance, one would think, well why not? If it’s already in our bodies, why wouldn’t it be safe?
 
Let’s look a little deeper into this.
 
The Role of Collagen 
 
Collagen is a long chain of proteins and sugars (known as a glycoprotein), and is the most abundant protein within our bodies. Collagen is found in skin, hair, cartilage, and many other tissues, and it is absolutely vital. Collagen is also the major component of something called the extracellular matrix, or ECM.
 
The ECM is a network of molecules such as collagen, enzymes, fibers, proteins and glycoproteins that exist outside of our cells – sort of like a scaffold, in order to support the cells with which they are associated. The ECM provides structural and biochemical support to the cells surrounding the ECM and there is an interaction between cells and the ECM – it helps to inform cells about growth and many other functions. [1]
 
The interaction between cells and the ECM provides for things like regulation of gene expression, cell differentiation and growth. So far so good. But this interaction between the ECM and cells can also play an important role in the growth of a tumor and its ability to grow and spread.
 
The Science
 
According to Sara Musetti, scientist and co-founder of OncoBites, a cancer research outreach blog, cancer takes all the good things about collagen and turns them into a nightmare. Musetti tells us “Collagen is used to support and protect, so naturally tumors twist it to their advantage. Tumors are often full of fibroblasts, the major cell type responsible for producing collagen. These cells pump out huge amounts of collagen, swaddling little pockets of tumor cells, called tumor nests, in blankets of collagen that keep damaging agents away. These collagen-rich regions form a physical barrier around tumor cells that keep chemotherapeutics, immune cells, antibodies, and other therapies from reaching the cells to kill them. The particular shape and character of collagen in a tumor has even been linked to how easily the tumor grows and spreads.” [2]
 
I found that fascinating – this ability of collagen to hide tumor cells in protective pockets so that immune cells and chemo drugs can’t get to them.
 
A 2013 study [3] found that DDR2, a protein that sits on the surface of tumor cells and binds to collagen, activates a pathway that encourages the spread and invasiveness of tumor cells. Researchers stated that DDR2 might very well be a good therapeutic target for treating metastasized breast cancer.
 
A 2014 paper [4] in Tumour Biology stated “While collagen was traditionally regarded as a passive barrier to resist tumor cells, it is now evident that collagen is also actively involved in promoting tumor progression. Collagen changes in tumor microenvironment release biomechanical signals, which are sensed by both tumor cells and stromal cells, trigger a cascade of biological events. In this work, we discuss how collagen can be a double-edged sword in tumor progression, both inhibiting and promoting tumor progression at different stages of cancer development.”
 
Another 2014 paper [5] stated that both hyaluronan (another glycoprotein found in the ECM) and collagen VI are upregulated (promoted) in breast cancer, generating a microenvironment that promotes the progression of a tumor and also metastasis. 
 
In her 2015 YouTube video “Understanding the Role of Collagen in Breast Cancer” [6], Dr Patricia Kelly explains that breast cancer cells use the collagen network in order to travel to other parts of the body. 
 
A 2016 article in Science Signaling [7] stated that TM4SF1 (a protein encoded by the gene TM4SF1) promoted the reactivation of dormant breast cancer cells in the lung, bone, and brain by promoting signaling when cells came into contact with type I collagen. Also, high TM4SF1 expression correlated with reduced metastasis-free survival in breast cancer patients, and that for those who had high expression of TM4SF1, this was highly predictive of their breast cancer recurrence.
 
Interestingly, it appears that different types of collagen can also suppress tumor growth. A 2015 animal study [8] found that type III collagen (col3) suppressed the carcinogenic microenvironment of a developing tumor. That was the only study I found that showed a particular type of collagen suppressed tumor growth.
 
A 2018 study [9] found that type 1 collagen promoted breast cancer cell growth and the ability to migrate to distant parts of the body.
 
Another 2018 study [10] also showed that collagen type 1A1 promoted breast cancer metastasis.
 
A 2018 article published in Breast Cancer Research [11] stated “Increased collagen expression and deposition are associated with cancer progression and poor prognosis in breast cancer patients.” The focus of the study was on a type of collagen known as collagen XIII. It was found that expression of this form of collagen was significantly higher in human breast cancer tissue compared with normal, healthy breast tissue, and that increased collagen XIII levels in breast cancer tissue correlated with increased tumor recurrence, promoted invasive tumor growth and enhanced breast cancer cells.
 
A 2019 review of medical studies on collagen [12] called collagen a “double-edged sword” with regard to cancer. The review reiterated the fact that our bodies have lots of collagen and require it for proper functioning. However, collagen is the major component of the tumor microenvironment and has been shown to participate in cancer development. Cancer cells use and reshape collagen, utilizing it to improve invasiveness, increase the ability of cancer cells to resist dying off, for building new blood vessels (angiogenesis), and many other functions, which gradually promotes cancer progression. Also, collagen-rich environments lack oxygen (known as hypoxia), which intensifies cancer progression. 
 
The study at [12] concluded: “Cells and molecules in the tumor microenvironment have dual effects on cancer progression. The role of collagen is a double-edged sword in cancer. On the one hand, collagen, cancer cells, other cells, and other matrix molecules mutually form an inter-reinforcing loop. This loop contributes to the development of cancer by inducing cancer cells proliferation, migration, and metastasis. On the other hand, preclinical and clinical studies have demonstrated that collagen may slow the development of cancer cells to some extent under some conditions. In summary, the association of collagen with cancer is only partially understood, and future studies are needed to elucidate detailed collagen biological mechanisms in cancer tissue that can be applied to precisely regulate collagen balance to achieve the maximum benefit of treatment. This new strategy combined with other treatment modalities can ultimately improve patient survival and quality of life.” 
 
One Chinese doctor at a burns unit in a Beijing Hospital (who did not wish to be named) clearly held a dim view of collagen supplementation, calling them absolutely useless. He said that after digestion, collagen disintegrates into amino acids, which are also found in the proteins of commonly-consumed foods like eggs, meat and beans. “The best result you can hope for after eating collagen is no effect,” the doctor said. “It would be more dangerous if you found the collagen effective, because then estrogen must have been added to the product.”
 
The Bottom Line
 
It is clear that researchers believe that many types of collagen promote tumor growth. Because it has been observed that breast cancer patients with high levels of collagen in their tumors often have less than optimal outcomes, it is advisable to steer clear of collagen supplementation if you have active cancer tumors in your body.
 
Because we do not have a definitive answer on whether collagen supplementation is safe for those whose tumors are gone, here’s what I would recommend.
 
Until we understand more about collagen supplementation, I intend to live by this quotation by wise old Benjamin Franklin: “When in doubt, don’t”. 
 
If you are considered to be cancer free and you believe collagen will be of benefit to you, and your doctor agrees with that, proceed with caution. I don’t believe women with dense breasts should supplement with collagen, as high collagen levels are the reason for increased breast density and are related to higher breast cancer risk. [13]
 
References:
 
[1] Video: Extracellular Matrix: https://www.khanacademy.org/science/biology/structure-of-a-cell/cytoskeleton-junctions-and-extracellular-structures/v/extracellular-matrix
 
[2] Article: The Double-Edged Sword of Collagen — https://oncobites.blog/2019/12/06/the-double-edged-sword-of-collagen/
 
[3] The collagen receptor discoidin domain receptor 2 stabilizes SNAIL1 to facilitate breast cancer metastasis — https://www.nature.com/articles/ncb2743
 
[4] Collagen as a double-edged sword in tumor progression – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3980040/
 
[5] Collagen VI and Hyaluronan: The Common Role in Breast Cancer – https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2014/606458/
 
[6] Video: Understanding the Role of Collagen in Breast Cancer – https://youtu.be/uAHpvwv9iqg
 
[7] Cancer reactivated by collagen – https://stke.sciencemag.org/content/9/437/ec165
 
[8] Type III Collagen Directs Stromal Organization and Limits Metastasis in a Murine Model of Breast Cancer — https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002944015001285
 
[9] Collagen type 1 promotes survival of human breast cancer cells by overexpressing Kv10.1 potassium and Orai1 calcium channels through DDR1-dependent pathway – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5973854/
 
[10] Collagen – col1A1 – Promotes Metastasis of Breast Cancer and is a Potential Therapeutic Target —
https://www.discoverymedicine.com/Jing-Liu/2018/05/collagen-col1a1-promotes-metastasis-of-breast-cancer-potential-therapeutic-target/
 
[11] Membrane associated collagen XIII promotes cancer metastasis and enhances anoikis resistance – https://breast-cancer-research.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13058-018-1030-y#:~:text=Increased%20collagen%20expression%20and%20deposition,protein%20within%20the%20collagen%20superfamily.
 
[12] The role of collagen in cancer: from bench to bedside – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6744664/
 
[13] Collagen Matrix Density Drives the Metabolic Shift in Breast Cancer Cells – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352396416304674

Article Topics

About Marnie Clark

marnie clark breast cancer coach

Hi I’m Marnie Clark, breast cancer survivor turned coach. I have 20 years of experience in natural medicine.  In 2004/05 I battled breast cancer myself. You can see more about my journey on my page Breast Cancer Diary.

I’ve been healthy and recurrence-free since 2004 and in 2012 I became a Breast Cancer Coach because I became aware of the fact that whilst there is now a wealth of information on the Internet, much of it is confusing, conflicting, and sometimes just wrong!

So it is my duty to help you unconfuse and untangle all that information, and find what works for YOU.

GET MY BEST TIPS on healthy ways to beat breast cancer and prevent recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and eBooks.

You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

Subscribe On YouTube

marnie clark youtube

Subscribe For Extra Support

Welcome to the Marnie Clark Breast Care Community. When you join my virtual family you will receive my informative newsletter PLUS my gift to you, these 2 eBooks valued at $47 to empower and support you on your breast cancer journey.

My subscribers also get a treasure trove of info on nutrition, supplements and lifestyle tips on surviving breast cancer.

“Thank you for the email and the meaningful words. I also wanted to thank you for being with me during my treatments. Your emails and posts not only gave me information but lots of courage.” Susan Z, Canada

How to Treat Mouth Sores from Chemo Treatment

How to Treat Mouth Sores from Chemo Treatment

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Subscribe to be notified when new articles are published. You’ll also receive my 2 free ebooks to assist you on your journey.

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How to Treat Mouth Sores from Chemo Treatment

How to Treat Mouth Sores from Chemo Treatment

There is quite possibly nothing more sore than the open lesions that can occur in your mouth while undergoing chemotherapy. Oh, they hurt. You can tell I speak from experience, and I learned very quickly what to do to keep them away, and I share all of that information (and more!) in this video.

The reason these mouth sores occur is because the chemotherapy drugs are targeting all rapidly dividing cells in the body, and that (unfortunately) includes the mucosa of the inside of the mouth, all the way down to the stomach. These cells are busy – they divide approximately every 24 hours and are constantly being shed.

The best course of action to take is to begin what is recommended in this video BEFORE you even start chemotherapy so that you keep all of this from happening, because once they occur, these mouth sores can be very difficult to heal up again. In hurts when you eat, when you drink anything hot and even (depending on its location) hurts to talk. 

If you are looking to get rid of a mouth sore or two that have already occurred, worry not – this will definitely speed up the process.

For more information on things you can do to help with your chemotherapy treatments, see these articles

I hope you found this helpful. If you are recently diagnosed, you may also want to visit my page Recently Diagnosed? Start Here

Article Topics

About Marnie Clark

marnie clark breast cancer coach

Hi I’m Marnie Clark, breast cancer survivor turned coach. I have 20 years of experience in natural medicine.  In 2004/05 I battled breast cancer myself. You can see more about my journey on my page Breast Cancer Diary.

I’ve been healthy and recurrence-free since 2004 and in 2012 I became a Breast Cancer Coach because I became aware of the fact that whilst there is now a wealth of information on the Internet, much of it is confusing, conflicting, and sometimes just wrong!

So it is my duty to help you unconfuse and untangle all that information, and find what works for YOU.

GET MY BEST TIPS on healthy ways to beat breast cancer and prevent recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and eBooks.

You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

Subscribe On YouTube

marnie clark youtube

Subscribe For Extra Support

Welcome to the Marnie Clark Breast Care Community. When you join my virtual family you will receive my informative newsletter PLUS my gift to you, these 2 eBooks valued at $47 to empower and support you on your breast cancer journey.

My subscribers also get a treasure trove of info on nutrition, supplements and lifestyle tips on surviving breast cancer.

“Thank you for the email and the meaningful words. I also wanted to thank you for being with me during my treatments. Your emails and posts not only gave me information but lots of courage.” Susan Z, Canada

Foods to Eat During Radiation Treatment

Foods to Eat During Radiation Treatment

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Subscribe to be notified when new articles are published. You’ll also receive my 2 free ebooks to assist you on your journey.

My subscribers also get a treasure trove of info on nutrition, supplements and lifestyle tips on surviving breast cancer.

Foods to Eat During Radiation Treatment

Foods to Eat During Radiation Treatment

If you have a breast cancer diagnosis and you are wanting to learn about the best foods to eat and which ones should be avoided during radiation treatments, this video was recorded for you!

In my years of experience as a breast cancer coach, I have discovered that there are certain foods and herbs you can eat, and things you can do while undergoing radiation treatment for breast cancer – and these things will help you get through your radiation treatments much better. Please watch the video all the way through to the end so that you don’t miss anything important.

If you have any questions, be sure to let me know.

More information on juicing: Benefits of Juicing

My recipe to guard against “The Burned Boob”: How to Protect Your Skin During Radiation Treatment for Breast Cancer

I hope you found this helpful. If you are recently diagnosed, you may also want to visit my page Recently Diagnosed? Start Here

Article Topics

About Marnie Clark

marnie clark breast cancer coach

Hi I’m Marnie Clark, breast cancer survivor turned coach. I have 20 years of experience in natural medicine.  In 2004/05 I battled breast cancer myself. You can see more about my journey on my page Breast Cancer Diary.

I’ve been healthy and recurrence-free since 2004 and in 2012 I became a Breast Cancer Coach because I became aware of the fact that whilst there is now a wealth of information on the Internet, much of it is confusing, conflicting, and sometimes just wrong!

So it is my duty to help you unconfuse and untangle all that information, and find what works for YOU.

GET MY BEST TIPS on healthy ways to beat breast cancer and prevent recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and eBooks.

You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

Subscribe On YouTube

marnie clark youtube

Subscribe For Extra Support

Welcome to the Marnie Clark Breast Care Community. When you join my virtual family you will receive my informative newsletter PLUS my gift to you, these 2 eBooks valued at $47 to empower and support you on your breast cancer journey.

My subscribers also get a treasure trove of info on nutrition, supplements and lifestyle tips on surviving breast cancer.

“Thank you for the email and the meaningful words. I also wanted to thank you for being with me during my treatments. Your emails and posts not only gave me information but lots of courage.” Susan Z, Canada

How Long After Chemo Will I Feel Better?

How Long After Chemo Will I Feel Better?

free-ebooks-breast-cancer-marnie-clark

Subscribe to be notified when new articles are published. You’ll also receive my 2 free ebooks to assist you on your journey.

My subscribers also get a treasure trove of info on nutrition, supplements and lifestyle tips on surviving breast cancer.

How Long After Chemo Will I Feel Better?

How long after chemo will I feel better? It’s a fair question to ask, and it’s one I get asked a great deal. My answer is to that question is that it all depends on how proactive you are. Here’s what I mean by that.
 
This is THE most important article for you to read if you have just finished chemotherapy or radiation so please do take the time to read this critical information and feel free to share it with your friends who are currently going through or have just finished chemotherapy.
 
Chemotherapy and Radiation Are Toxic to Our Bodies
 
Chemotherapy drugs and radiation are both highly toxic to our bodies – even the anesthesia from surgery can glug up your body. Once chemotherapy and radiation have been completed and these strong treatments have done their job, the body is often filled with toxins – not just from the drugs and radiation, but also from the cancer cells that have been killed off.
 
Our bodies do a pretty good job of detoxing all on their own – or at least they do when we are healthy. But when we’ve been through these therapies, our body isn’t what it was. We’re tired, am I right? In fact, probably exhausted. Our bodies have become overloaded with toxic residue, some of which can remain in the body for years – even decades. That is, unless you know what to do.
 
It’s really important – and I’d say CRITICAL – to detox your body from these toxins because an overload of toxins in your body causes immune suppression [1,2], among other problems. It is your immune system on which you are relying to keep well and not have to go through cancer again, so this is super important.
 
It’s truly urgent to detox your body from the ill effects of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. I’d suggest starting as soon as you feel strong enough, but not before two weeks past the last chemo or radiation session. Be sure to check with your doctor or naturopath before embarking on any detox program to make sure you are strong and healthy enough.
 
Here’s a quick list of eleven things you can do that will help to get you started detoxing your body.
 
How To Detox Your Body After Chemotherapy & Radiation – 11 Tips
 
1.  Rebuild Your Immune System – Since your immune system is your first line of defense against cancer and all other diseases, you must rebuild it because the chemotherapy and radiation treatments will have blasted the hell out of the very thing you are relying upon to stay well. As I said, your body may eventually do this on its own, but the process is generally quite slow and you don’t want to give any open doors to stray cancer cells. Here’s my page with tips on how to rebuild immunity: 8 Ways To Build A Super Strong Immune System.
 
2. Colonic Hydrotherapy – Colonic hydrotherapy can be of assistance not only after chemotherapy but also during to help alleviate the terrible constipation that often results from chemotherapy. Your doctor or nurses may argue the need for colonic hydrotherapy (one nurse told me that we are designed for those wastes to move ONE way and we shouldn’t go against that) but I chose not to listen – the arguments for colonic hydrotherapy far outweighed her opinion. It really helps tremendously.  It is a gentle and effective method for cleansing the colon – it is, in fact, the very best thing you can do to cleanse the upper reaches of the colon – places that enemas just can’t reach. Colonic hydrotherapy has an extensive history going back to ancient Egyptians and probably before that.
 
3. Liver Cleanse – Periodically doing a liver cleanse is absolutely essential, because this one organ is responsible for over 500 very important functions in your body. Filtering your blood and cleansing it of impurities and undesired things is just the start of what the liver does!  There are many therapies which help to cleanse the liver, but one of my favorites is the coffee enema – which also helps to cleanse the colon. Bang! Two birds with one stone. If you haven’t heard of this before, you owe it to yourself to learn more about coffee enemas. Sign up for my newsletters, I will teach you.
 
4.  Drink Lots of Filtered Water and Herbal Teas – This may seem simple but drinking lots of filtered water and herbal teas is one of the best things you can do to help detox your body after chemotherapy and radiation. How much do you need? We used to be told that we need to drink at least 8 glasses of water per day, however, newer studies have shown that as long as you are sipping away on water all day and don’t go thirsty, you are likely getting what you need. Add a slice of lemon or lime for some antioxidants,  flavor, and additional cleansing power. Herbal teas are also wonderful to help the cleansing process, particularly dandelion root tea which is a great liver cleanser (just don’t drink dandelion tea all the time – it’s most effective for use during a specific liver detox).
 
5.  Juicing Organic Produce & Making Smoothies – The value of juicing and smoothie making cannot be overemphasized. The living enzymes and nutrients that are contained within freshly prepared juices and smoothies help to flush away toxins, rebuild the immune system, provide us with instant energy, help your body fight against cancer, and help to build up the blood. It’s so much better than taking a multi-vitamin because the nutrients are in a form that is most acceptable and assimilable by our bodies. Try any combination of beet, carrot, cucumber, broccoli, apple, ginger and lemon. Berries like blueberries, strawberries and raspberries are also great – they are full of antioxidants and are potent blood cleansers – and all are cancer fighters. I have loads of articles on my website about the benefits of juicing, so be sure to check them out.
 
6.  Circulate Your Blood – Walking, dancing, doing yoga – all of these things will help to detox your body. If you aren’t feeling up to that yet, simply bouncing on a rebounder (one of those mini trampolines) for 10 minutes two or three times per day helps to get your heart pumping. That gets your blood circulating and stimulates your lymphatic system to move, thus flushing toxins out of your body. Dry skin brushing is also beneficial – again, if you don’t know about that, just subscribe to my newsletters, I’ll teach you.
 
7.  Eat Lots of Fiber – Fiber in the diet helps to grab onto toxins in your digestive tract. It also helps to remove excess estrogen from your body (again – two birds with one stone!).  Fiber soaks up toxins like a sponge, and speeds up the elimination process. You can get loads of fiber from eating whole grains, beans, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. There are also plenty of fiber products that you could choose to add to your health regimen.  One very good one is freshly ground organic flaxseed. Organic psyllium husks would be another good choice.
 
8.  Herbal Medicine – There are many herbs and essential oils which will assist you in detoxing after chemotherapy and radiation.  As I mentioned, dandelion root is a particularly good herb for liver cleansing, and so are yellow dock root, turkey rhubarb and Oregon grape root.  I would definitely recommend seeking the advice of a qualified naturopath before taking herbs, however. A naturopath can help to guide you as to which herbs are best for you, dosages and possible drug interactions.
 
9.  Avoiding Food-Borne Toxins – Your best course of action is to avoid processed and sugar-laden foods, as well as conventionally raised (or GMO) produce and meats, as these will not assist the detox process. Eating plenty of organic fruits, vegetables and free range lean meats like organic chicken (if you’re a meat eater) is much more conducive to keeping your system clear of  toxins. I don’t even recommend fish anymore since Fukushima happened – even our deep sea fish are showing traces of radioactivity.
 
10.  The Detox Bath – There is something so restorative about a hot detox bath! Hot water opens the pores and assists perspiration to take toxins away. By adding Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate), these two minerals help generate enzymes that work to clean up the body. Use at least 1-2 cups of Epsom salts in the bath. To make it a totally revitalizing experience, add lavender essential oil for its calming effects, or ginger which also helps to open the pores and is a good natural anti-inflammatory. If you don’t have Epsom salts, use plain old baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) in the same amount – or mix them half and half. Both help to neutralize the effects of radiation. You might also add 1 cup of bentonite clay – in particular sodium bentonite clay, which is a potent detoxifying agent.
 
11.  Detox Your Skin Care – If your body and skin care products are laden with toxic chemicals, many of which are known to be hormone disrupters, you are taking all of those toxins into your body. Our skin absorbs everything we put onto it and puts it into the bloodstream. I have a saying “If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin.”  It’s so important to use organic body products and cosmetics. All the time, not just when you are detoxing your body. Or make your own – I’ve got loads of recipes for doing this.
 
I have only touched the surface of this subject! There’s so much more to know! If you would like help in learning more specifically how to safely and effectively cleanse your tissues and organs of toxins from chemotherapy, radiation and even surgery, I have created a powerful how-to course to teach you. It is a collaborative project with naturopath Judy Seeger, the Cleanse Queen herself! For more information, click here.
 
References:
 
[1] Environmental toxins impair immune system over multiple generations – https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/10/191002144257.htm —
 
[2] The Capacity of Toxic Agents to Compromise the Immune System (Biologic Markers of Immunosuppression) – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235670/

Article Topics

About Marnie Clark

marnie clark breast cancer coach

Hi I’m Marnie Clark, breast cancer survivor turned coach. I have 20 years of experience in natural medicine.  In 2004/05 I battled breast cancer myself. You can see more about my journey on my page Breast Cancer Diary.

I’ve been healthy and recurrence-free since 2004 and in 2012 I became a Breast Cancer Coach because I became aware of the fact that whilst there is now a wealth of information on the Internet, much of it is confusing, conflicting, and sometimes just wrong!

So it is my duty to help you unconfuse and untangle all that information, and find what works for YOU.

GET MY BEST TIPS on healthy ways to beat breast cancer and prevent recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and eBooks.

You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

Subscribe On YouTube

marnie clark youtube

Subscribe For Extra Support

Welcome to the Marnie Clark Breast Care Community. When you join my virtual family you will receive my informative newsletter PLUS my gift to you, these 2 eBooks valued at $47 to empower and support you on your breast cancer journey.

My subscribers also get a treasure trove of info on nutrition, supplements and lifestyle tips on surviving breast cancer.

“Thank you for the email and the meaningful words. I also wanted to thank you for being with me during my treatments. Your emails and posts not only gave me information but lots of courage.” Susan Z, Canada

Are There Any Healthy Sugar Substitutes?

Are There Any Healthy Sugar Substitutes?

free-ebooks-breast-cancer-marnie-clark

Subscribe to be notified when new articles are published. You’ll also receive my 2 free ebooks to assist you on your journey.

My subscribers also get a treasure trove of info on nutrition, supplements and lifestyle tips on surviving breast cancer.

Are There Any Healthy Sugar Substitutes?

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer and have come across some advice that you should avoid sugar because it helps cancer to grow, that’s good advice. So now maybe you’re wondering about whether there are any healthy sugar substitutes – I mean there are loads of these sweeteners out there, but are they safe, viable options for sweetening our food? Do sugar substitutes come with side effects?

I’ve written about this subject before in 2014 (see my article “Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe?”) and I’m writing about it again because it is still a hot topic and there is much to know.

If you are one of those that feel like certain foods or beverages can’t be consumed without some sort of sweetness being added, I get it, I truly do. But there are some important things to know about sugar substitutes, especially if you are healing from breast cancer.

Sugar Substitutes, Artificial Sweeteners

Some sugar substitutes are made up of substances that the body is unable to absorb – our bodies lack the enzymes required to digest them. Many are made from sugar alcohols, which surprisingly enough are neither alcohol nor sugar. Some are made up of acids blended with potassium, some are made from other artificial sweeteners plus other ingredients. All of these substances are many times sweeter than honey or sugar – according to Cancer.gov, sugar substitutes range in sweetness from 200 to 20,000+ times sweeter than regular table sugar. [1]

I decided to delve deeply into this subject and have a look at the research on sugar substitutes and what I discovered is that all sugar substitutes are not the same. Far from it! I’ve done my best to succinctly explain how each one is made, and which ones are safe and which are not.

I think one of the things that bothers me most about sugar substitutes is that many of them can still raise blood glucose levels – the very thing we are relying on them NOT to do. That’s a good thing to be wary of – just because a food is labeled ”sugar-free”, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is free of carbohydrates or that it won’t raise your blood sugar levels.

There are a huge number of sugar substitutes – some natural and some very decidedly not. Some are better than others. Here is a list of the major ones:

Acesulfame potassium – Brand names Sweet One, Sunett. Made from an acid plus potassium. The US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) advises over 90 studies have confirmed that acesulfame potassium is safe for consumption. Regardless of that, here’s some disturbing info that I found. A 2014 study [2] found that acesulfame potassium enhanced glucose absorption in the cells of the small intestine.That means that this sugar substitute HELPS you absorb sugar better. A 2017 animal study [3] found that acesulfame potassium given to mice for four weeks messed up their gut microbiome, reducing beneficial gut bacteria; and caused weight gain in the male mice, but not the female. While it’s true that the 2017 study used higher amounts than would normally be consumed, this one still gets a thumbs down from me. As old Ben Franklin used to say, “When in doubt, don’t.”

Advantame – Made from aspartame and vanillin (from the vanilla bean). It’s about 20,000 times sweeter than sugar. Okayed for use by the USFDA but because it’s made with aspartame, it’s on my “avoid” list (see aspartame, below).

Aspartame – Brand names NutraSweet, Equal, Sugar Twin. Made from the amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Again, the USFDA says over 100 studies have proven it safe, but see point #5 below. In addition, Harding Medical Institute (and many other doctors) consider aspartame to be a neurotoxin. [4] Definitely on my to be avoided list.

Erythritol – A sugar alcohol manufactured firstly by enzymatic breakdown of starch from corn to generate glucose. Glucose is then fermented with yeast or some other fungus to produce erythritol. This is one of the better ones – it’s easy to digest, and low on the glycemic index. Okay to consume in moderate amounts if it’s ORGANIC because of the prevalence of GMO corn. Dr Michael Greger at NutritionFacts.org has put compiled some helpful information on erythritol in his video “A Harmless Artificial Sweetener”. [5] According to Dr Greger, erythritol is the one sugar substitute that he considers to be safe enough for his family. It rates a thumbs up from me as well.

Lactitol – A sugar alcohol manufactured from whey, a by-product of cheese making. Said to be safe by government authorities. I found several studies indicating that it was being used as a remedy for constipation. [6] Many sugar alcohol sweeteners do have a laxative effect, being very poorly absorbed. If you already have gut issues or are on a low-FODMAP diet, this one is better off avoided. If you suffer with constipation, it might not be a bad one for you (TIP: for chronic constipation, look into colonic hydrotherapy and even emotional healing because this is often the result for people who have a difficult time letting things go – but that’s a whole other topic!).

Maltitol – A sugar alcohol manufactured through the hydrogenation of maltose, which is obtained from the enzyme conversion of starches, often from corn. Seems innocuous enough, but it rates pretty high on the glycemic index, can cause gut problems, and there’s that corn connection – if maltitol is made with GMO corn, it’s not safe for consumption.

Mannitol – A sugar alcohol manufactured through the hydrogenation of fructose, which is formed from either sucrose (table sugar) or starch. It also occurs naturally in certain things like strawberries, watermelon, peaches, mushrooms, celery, onions, and a few other food sources. It is low on the glycemic index, but being a sugar alcohol, it is very poorly absorbed and can cause gut issues, including diarrhea. If you already have gut issues or on a low-FODMAP diet, it’s better off avoided.

Monk fruit extract – Comes from the plant Siraitia grosvenorii. Brand names Nectresse, Monk Fruit in the Raw, PureLo. It’s up to 400 times sweeter than sugar, but quite low on the glycemic index. The sweetness of monk fruit comes from phytochemicals known as mogrosides, which the body processes differently than sugars like fructose and sucrose. No carbs, no calories, completely natural. That’s a big yes if used in moderation.

Neotame – Brand name Newtame. Made from aspartic acid, phenylalanine, a methyl ester and what is known as a neohexyl group. It’s similar to aspartame but created to only release small amounts of phenylalanine. Neotame is up to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar and low on the glycemic index, but caution is warranted. Harding Medical Institute called it a neurotoxin like aspartame [7]. A 2018 study on mice [8] found that it altered their gut microbiome, reducing the diversity of beneficial gut bacteria and increasing more harmful bacteria. In her book “Sweet Poison – How The World’s Most Popular Artificial Sweetener Is Killing Us – My Story” [9], Dr. Janet Hull states “Neotame contains all the dangerous elements found in aspartame and more…” This one gets a big thumbs down.

Saccharin – Brand names Sweet Twin, Sweet ‘N Low, NectaSweet. It comes in four forms: acid saccharin, potassium saccharin, sodium saccharin and calcium saccharin. It is made by combining methyl anthranilate (found in many fruit juices) with one of these four forms of saccharin. Saccharin is up to 700 times sweeter than sugar and has no calories. Approved for use by the USFDA. One 2008 study [10] found that in rats who were exposed to cocaine, and then given a choice between oral saccharin or intravenous cocaine, most chose saccharin. A 2018 study with rats [11] showed that given the choice between heroin and saccharin, the rats would choose saccharin. So it may be rather addictive. Further, a 1983 review of studies on saccharin [12] had this to say “A benefit-risk evaluation for saccharin showed few, if any documentable benefits from the use of saccharin and much genuine uncertainty concerning the potential risks for ingestion by man. This element of genuine uncertainty as to the extent of human risk posed to man is the crux of saccharin’s past and its foreseeable future.” Further, a 2017 animal study [13] found that saccharin caused inflammatory markers to rise in the gut of the test animals, induced liver inflammation and unfavorably altered their gut microbiome. That’s a big “NO” from me.

Sorbitol – A sugar alcohol manufactured from corn and various fruits, being synthesized via glucose reduction in which an aldehyde group (CHO) is converted into a hydroxyl group (OH). The body breaks sorbitol down with sorbitol dehydrogenase, an enzyme which converts sorbitol to fructose. The liver then converts fructose into glucose. Sorbitol is very low on the glycemic index, but being a sugar alcohol, can cause gut problems due to poor or no absorption, and may have a laxative effect. If you already have gut issues or are on a low-FODMAP diet, it’s better off avoided. Even if you don’t have gut issues, use it with caution.

Stevia leaf extracts – From the leaves of the plant Stevia rebaudiana. Brand names Truvia, PureVia, Enliten, SweetLeaf. Stevia rates low on the glycemic index, and it is 300 times sweeter than sugar. Banned for awhile in the USA because some big companies convinced the USFDA that it should be banned (we can guess why). Organic stevia made from the leaves of the plant is safe for consumption if used in small quantities. A 2018 animal study [14] found that stevia helped to lower cholesterol levels. Stevia is better than most of these sugar substitutes but it does come with a warning, though, so please see what I have to say about stevia in my 2014 article Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe? Stick with organic, pure stevia, not the processed stuff.

Sucralose – Brand name Splenda, Canderal. Made by replacing three hydrogen-oxygen (OH) groups on a sugar molecule with three chlorine (Cl) groups. A small 2014 clinical trial [15] found that Sucralose increased blood glucose and insulin levels and decreased insulin sensitivity in obese people. In addition, a 2008 animal study on sucralose [16] found that it altered the gut microbiome by decreasing beneficial bacteria by up to 50 percent, and 12 weeks after the study, the beneficial bacteria had not recovered. That essentially means that even after sucralose intake had stopped, the gut microbiomes of the animals studied were still negatively impacted. This study also found that sucralose may make certain orally administered drugs less effective by enhancing expression of enzymes that metabolize the drugs. Lastly, one of the promoted uses of sucralose is to use it in baking and cooking to replace sugar and reduce calories. It is supposed to be heat resistant, but two studies [17,18] demonstrated that when it is heated to high temperatures (such as you would in baking), sucralose degrades and releases harmful chloropropanols (considered toxic and possible carcinogenic). So sucralose is a big NO from me.

Xylitol – A sugar alcohol manufactured most often from either birch tree bark or in the lab from xylose, a wood-based sugar. It is also found in minute quantities in some fruits and vegetables. Xylose is hydrogenated into a raw form of xylitol. You’ll find it as an additive in a lot of different foods including chewing gum, desserts, syrups, jams, and even in some vitamins and supplements. Being a sugar alcohol, our bodies don’t completely digest xylitol, and if you have too much of it it can have a laxative effect, as well as some other gut disturbances. A 2019 review of studies [19] showed that xylitol had a number of beneficial properties, including improving bone mineral density, easing constipation, acting as a prebiotic, had benefits for weight management, and interestingly, modulating the immune system in animals. Xylitol stimulated innate and acquired immunity, mainly against bacterial infections. Here’s the deal though – all of the authors of the study were employees of DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences. DuPont manufactures and markets xylitol. Let’s just say xylitol is reasonably okay, but not my favorite sugar substitute.

The 7 Major Downsides of Some Sugar Substitutes

1. They Can Mess With Your Brain – Some studies [20,21] suggest that artificial sweeteners cross the blood-brain barrier and can disrupt the function of the hippocampus. This can impair signals to parts of the brain that control feelings of hunger and satiety. This effect can sabotage ability to lose weight. Artificial sweeteners can cause us to eat more because after consuming them, the gut tells the brain that there is a lack of nutrition and that makes you hungrier. Plus artificial sweeteners may be addictive, as noted above.

2. They Can Mess Up Your Gut – In reference to the sweeteners that are not broken down well by our bodies, they can pull extra water into the large intestine and cause diarrhea. They can also sit there and ferment which can lead to bloating, gas, and poor fat absorption. Because these sweeteners are not properly broken down in the gut, they can also be used for food by bad bacteria and promote their health, which can kill off the healthier, more beneficial gut bacteria. Two studies found that artificial sweeteners could induce glucose intolerance in mice and in some humans by functionally altering the gut microbiome. This can increase the risk for type 2 diabetes.[22,23]

3. They Don’t Help You Lose Weight and May Lead to Diabetes and Heart Disease – Two reviews of medical studies [24,25] found that the data in both animals and humans suggested the effects of artificial sweeteners, rather than helping reduce insulin resistance and obesity, may instead be contributing to metabolic syndrome, the obesity epidemic and increased risk of heart disease. A 2009 study [26] found that daily consumption of diet drinks was associated with a 36 percent higher risk for metabolic syndrome and a 67 percent increased risk for type 2 diabetes.

4. They Mess With Your Taste Buds – Because artificial sweeteners are so intensely sweet in comparison with natural sugars, your taste buds can become accustomed to that, and that’s not a good thing. Nutritionists agree that those who have artificial sweeteners on a regular basis can become accustomed to their mega-sweetness and it can change the palate, thus decreasing enjoyment of foods that are good for you, like fruit and vegetables.

5. They Can Mess with Your DNA – A 2006 animal study [27] found that rats given high doses of aspartame were more likely to develop leukemia or lymphoma than the animals given sugar. To be fair, those high doses were a little unnatural because the animals were fed somewhere approximating the aspartame found in 2,000 cans of diet soda each day. In response to that, the same researchers conducted another study [28], in which the rats were exposed to quite low doses of aspartame in their feed – as low as 20 mg per kilogram of body weight – from the time they were fetuses until they died a natural death. The study results showed that aspartame was indeed carcinogenic, even at doses that fell within the acceptable daily intake, which in the USA is set at 50 mg per kilogram of body weight. The study found there was a significant dose-related increase in the rate of leukemia, lymphoma and even mammary tumors. Aspartame is particularly a problem, because aspartame is broken down into three different compounds: phenylalanine, aspartate and methanol. It is the methanol that is of most concern, because it can convert into formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. I talk a little more about aspartame in my article “Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe?” See especially the part about Gulf War soldiers. Additionally, a 2015 review of medical studies [29] involving nearly 600,000 participants concluded that heavy consumption of artificial sweeteners might indeed increase the risk of particular cancers including laryngeal, urinary, leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (but then the study authors stated that the results were inconclusive. Mmm-kay.)

6. They May Trigger Migraines – Several studies [30,31] have shown that people with a high intake of artificial sweeteners like aspartame can suffer with migraines.

7. Some Are Made From GMO Corn – Some sugar substitutes are made in part from GMO corn, which has been linked with many different health problems. For more information, see my article “We Must Avoid Genetically Modified Organisms”.

I think it’s clear that some sugar substitutes are better than others. If you feel some sort of digestive upset after eating consuming, say, sugar alcohols like xylitol or sorbitol and want to keep trying, just try monk fruit or stevia. And as with most things, having sugar substitutes in moderation is pretty important. If you’re a type 2 diabetic, I say give most of these sugar substitutes a big miss altogether, except for monk fruit. That one is great for diabetics. For my breast cancer thrivers, I believe monk fruit, organic stevia and organic erythritol are safe IN MODERATION.

References:

[1] Article: Additional Information About High Intensity Sweeteners Permitted for Use as Food in the United States – https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/additional-information-about-high-intensity-sweeteners-permitted-use-food-united-states

[2] Effect of the Artificial Sweetener, Acesulfame Potassium, a Sweet Taste Receptor Agonist, on Glucose Uptake in Small Intestinal Cell Lines – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3516624/

[3] The artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium affects the gut microbiome and body weight gain in CD-1 mice – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5464538/

[4] https://hardingmedicalinstitute.com/the-risks-of-neotame-and-how-you-can-curb-your-sweet-tooth/

[5] Video: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/a-harmless-artificial-sweetener/

[6] Efficacy and tolerance of lactitol supplementation for adult constipation: a systematic review and meta-analysis – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4103919/

[7] https://hardingmedicalinstitute.com/the-risks-of-neotame-and-how-you-can-curb-your-sweet-tooth/

[8] Effects of the Artificial Sweetener Neotame on the Gut Microbiome and Fecal Metabolites in Mice – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6017827/

[9] Hull, J. (1999). Sweet Poison How The World’s Most Popular Artificial Sweetener Is Killing Us – My Story, Far Hills, NJ: New Horizon Press

[10] Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1931610/

[11] Heroin and saccharin demand and preference in rats – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5548646/

[12] Saccharin: a toxicological and historical perspective – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6353664/

[13] Saccharin induced liver inflammation in mice by altering the gut microbiota and its metabolic functions – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5647777/

[14] Antihyperlipidemic efficacy of aqueous extract of Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni in albino rats – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6064095/

[15] Sucralose affects glycemic and hormonal responses to an oral glucose load – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23633524/

[16] Splenda alters gut microflora and increases intestinal p-glycoprotein and cytochrome p-450 in male rats – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18800291/

[17] Sucralose, a synthetic organochlorine sweetener: overview of biological issues – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24219506/

[18] Thermal stability and thermal decomposition of sucralose – https://www.scielo.br/pdf/eq/v34n4/a02v34n4.pdf

[19] Xylitol’s Health Benefits beyond Dental Health: A Comprehensive Review – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723878/

[20] Physiological mechanisms by which non-nutritive sweeteners may impact body weight and metabolism – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4661139/

[21] The effect of non-caloric sweeteners on cognition, choice, and post-consumption satisfaction – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25128835/

[22] Non-caloric artificial sweeteners and the microbiome: findings and challenges – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4615743/

[23] Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25231862/

[24] The Association Between Artificial Sweeteners and Obesity – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29159583/

[25] Artificial sweeteners and metabolic dysregulation: Lessons learned from agriculture and the laboratory – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27387506/

[26] Diet Soda Intake and Risk of Incident Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) – https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/32/4/688

[27] Results of long-term carcinogenicity bioassay on Sprague-Dawley rats exposed to aspartame administered in feed – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17119233/

[28] Life-Span Exposure to Low Doses of Aspartame Beginning during Prenatal Life Increases Cancer Effects in Rats – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1964906/

[29] Systematic review of the relationship between artificial sweetener consumption and cancer in humans: analysis of 599,741 participants – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26202345/

[30] Migraine provoked by aspartame – https://agris.fao.org/agris-search/search.do?recordID=US8724688

[31] Formaldehyde, aspartame, and migraines: a possible connection – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18627677/

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About Marnie Clark

marnie clark breast cancer coach

Hi I’m Marnie Clark, breast cancer survivor turned coach. I have 20 years of experience in natural medicine.  In 2004/05 I battled breast cancer myself. You can see more about my journey on my page Breast Cancer Diary.

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