high-fructose corn syrup

A study determined whether high-fructose corn syrup, often used to sweeten beverages, amplifies tumor growth in mice.


High-fructose corn syrup is commonly used to sweeten beverages. The increasing consumption of these sugary drinks since the 1980s has been linked to an increase of obesity and colorectal cancer risk among young and middle-aged adults.

Although studies have shown the link between excess consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and obesity, and obesity with an increased risk of colorectal cancer, there is less evidence on whether the sugar-sweetened drinks have a direct effect on tumor growth.

In a new study published in Science, researchers from the United States investigated the effects of high-fructose corn syrup consumption on tumor growth in mice.

APC protein suppresses tumor growth but it becomes mutated in colorectal cancer

The researchers used a mouse model to assess the effect of high-fructose corn syrup in tumor development. They used mice with a deleted adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) gene compared to mice with normal APC gene functioning.

The APC protein normally functions to suppress tumor growth, but is often mutated in the early stages of colorectal cancer. The researchers gave the mice a moderate amount of sugary water to mimic a human daily consumption of one can of soda.

Mice without APC had larger, higher-grade tumors

After two months of treatment, although the APC-deficient mice did not become obese, they did have a significantly higher number of large tumors and higher-grade tumors. This finding demonstrates the potential for chronic intake of high-fructose corn syrup to facilitate tumor growth in the absence of obesity.

High amounts of fructose boost fatty acids, which are key contributors to tumor growth

The researchers further investigated how high-fructose corn syrup is processed and metabolized in the mice. They discovered that the high concentrations of fructose in the body after consumption was transported and trapped within tumor cells. High amounts of fructose were found to boost the production of fatty acids. These fatty acids are a key contributor to tumor growth and the development of cancer.

The results from this study support the idea that dietary high-fructose corn syrup can enhance tumor growth, even when consumed in moderation. Fructose metabolism may be a potential therapeutic target to slow the development of colorectal cancer and future research should explore this possibility. Although further studies in humans are needed, the researchers hope these initial findings can raise public awareness on the potential harm that sugary beverages containing high-fructose corn syrup can have on human health.

Written by Maggie Leung, PharmD


  1. Goncalves, M. D., Lu, C., Tutnauer, J., Hartman, T. E., Hwang, S., Murphy, C. J., . . . Yun, J. (2019). High-fructose corn syrup enhances intestinal tumor growth in mice. Science,363(6433), 1345-1349. doi:10.1126/science.aat8515
  2. Mickey, A. (2019, March 21). High-fructose corn syrup boosts intestinal tumor growth in mice. Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-03/bcom-hcs031819.php
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