Could a spoonful of sugar help treat malignant cancer?
New (Sweet) Way to Combat CancerIn recent years, mannose's anti-cancer properties have garnered much attention from researchers. Several studies have shown that mannose can inhibit the growth of various cancers, including lung, colorectal, and prostate cancer. The mechanism of action isn’t yet fully understood but is thought to involve the disruption of glycosylation processes in cancer cells, which impairs cell growth and DNA synthesis. The following are some of the cancers that mannose has been shown to fight:
- Lung cancer: An animal study published in Cancer Management and Research in 2020 found that mannose slowed lung cancer tumor growth and helped make chemotherapy more effective at fighting the disease. "Mannose could probably solve the problem of drug resistance during chemotherapy," the study authors wrote.
- Prostate cancer: Research from 2022 found that mannose can retard growth and stimulate cell death of prostate cancer in mice through its effect on the mitochondria of these cancer cells.
- Colorectal cancer: A 2022 study found that mannose can halt tumor growth in mice with colorectal cancer.
Possible Role in Preventing CancerWhile the exact mechanisms are still being unraveled, some scientists hypothesize that mannose may also help prevent cancer by supporting healthy cells in the following ways:
- Activating the immune system: Mannose has been suggested to enhance the activity of immune cells, particularly macrophages, which play a role in identifying and eliminating cancer cells.
- Reducing inflammation: Chronic inflammation is associated with an increased risk of cancer. Mannose may have anti-inflammatory properties that could help reduce chronic inflammation.
- Inhibiting tumor growth: One 2021 study suggested that mannose can hinder the growth of tumors by interfering with specific metabolic pathways that cancer cells rely on for energy.
- Disrupting glycosylation: Mannose is involved in glycosylation, a process through which sugar molecules are added to proteins. Some cancer cells exhibit abnormal glycosylation patterns. The theory is that mannose supplementation may interfere with this abnormal glycosylation, inhibiting the growth and spread of cancer cells.
Latest Research“It’s been known for more than a century that mannose is lethal to honeybees because they can’t process it like humans do—it’s known as ‘honeybee syndrome,’” Hudson Freeze, who holds a doctorate in biology and is the director of the Human Genetics Program at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute and co-author of the study recently published in the eLife journal, said in a statement.
His team investigated whether this syndrome is connected to mannose's anti-cancer effects.
Using genetically engineered human cancer cells from fibrosarcoma, a rare cancer in connective tissue, the researchers replicated honeybee syndrome in the lab. They found that the cancer cells struggled to build DNA and replicate without the enzyme to process mannose, making them more vulnerable to chemotherapy.
Although promising, more research is required to determine which cancer types respond best to this treatment.
Already Used to Treat Some DiseasesMannose is a naturally occurring simple sugar found in fruits, including blueberries, cranberries, oranges, apples, and peaches. Chemically similar to glucose, it's less sweet and affects blood sugar differently.
InfectionsMannose nurtures the growth of good bacteria in the gut, Ms. Feivor said, noting that this is unlike regular table sugar.
“[Mannose] may have preventative properties for urinary tract infections due to it being metabolized through the kidneys and excreted as urine,” she said.
A healthy gut microbiome can have cascading effects on the body, including an improved immune system.