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Sugary drinks and cancer

French researchers report sugary drinks linked to cancer

The results revealed that there was a positive association between the cancers and excess consumption of the sugary drinks

French researchers have found that drinking only a small glass of sugary drink per day could lead to an 18 percent increase in the risk of cancer and a 22 percent increase in breast cancers. The investigators noted that sugary drinks are being consumed increasingly and this is raising the disease burden. Sugary drinks are associated with obesity and related problems. Earlier studies have connected sugary drinks to heart disease and diabetes. Obesity is also a risk factor for cancers, partly due to the glucose load on the body that raises the risk of liver and breast cancers and other cancers related to diabetes. The team published their findings, ‘Sugary drink consumption and risk of cancer: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort’, in the British Medical Journal.

“Indeed, sugary drinks are convincingly associated with the risk of obesity, which in turn, is recognized as a strong risk factor for many cancer sites,” said Mathilde Touvier, the research director of Nutritional Epidemiology Research Team of the National Health and Medical Research Institute. “Analyses of this study suggest that overweight and weight gain may not be the only drivers of the association between sugary drinks and cancer risk, but that the relationship observed was also strongly driven by its sugar content. High sugary drinks consumption is a risk factor for obesity and weight gain and obesity is in itself a risk factor for cancer.”

The study authors sought to assess the associations between the consumption of sugary drinks (such as sugar sweetened beverages and 100% fruit juices), artificially sweetened beverages and the risk of cancer. The research included 101,257 participants aged 18 and from the French NutriNet-Santé cohort and consumption of sugary drinks and artificially sweetened beverages were assessed by using repeated 24-hour dietary records, designed to register participants’ usual consumption for 3,300 different food and beverage items. The primary outcome was the associations between beverage consumption and the risk of overall, breast, prostate and colorectal cancer.

NutriNet-Sante is a French web-based cohort study that includes French adults over the age of 18 years. Total 101,257 participants were followed up in the research. They were given detailed questionnaires to fill up. This included their lifestyle parameters, body measurements, diet, level of physical activity and also health status. These were recorded at the start of the study and throughout the follow up at intervals of six months. To assess the sugary beverage consumption all drinks containing more than 5% of simple carbohydrates and 100% fruit juices were included in the study. The team also used dual energy X-ray absorptiometry among participants to assess body fat distribution.

There are certain chemicals such as 4-methylimidazole in sugary drinks that has been identified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as carcinogenic or cancer causative. In addition, pesticides in fruit juices and artificial sweeteners like aspartame are also known carcinogens. The researchers add that there are no clear large population studies that have linked these sugary drinks with cancers and this study attempted to uncover the association.

On an average the participants were followed up for around five years. It was noted than on an average, males consumed an average of 90.3ml of sugary drinks per day compared to 74.6ml in women. During this time a total of 2,193 cases of cancers were detected of which 693 were breast cancers, 291 were prostrate cancers and 166 were colon and rectum cancers.

The results revealed that there was a positive association between the cancers and excess consumption of the sugary drinks. The association was present for breast cancer but not with prostrate, lung and colon cancers. The results were not significant for sweetened soda but were confirmed for 100% fruit juices. Not surprisingly, there was a strong association between fat deposition and sugary drink consumption. The team explained that fat deposits due to sugar are commonly ‘visceral fat’. This fat could be linked to cancers of the mouth, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, breast, ovary, colon, rectum, kidney and prostate as well as the womb.

Touvier explained that this was an observational study and that was a limitation: “We cannot make a causal inference. But we took into account many demographic and lifestyle factors, and the association was still significant.”

Authors of the study conclude, “These data support the relevance of existing nutritional recommendations to limit sugary drink consumption, including 100% fruit juice, as well as policy actions, such as taxation and marketing restrictions targeting sugary drinks, which might potentially contribute to the reduction of cancer incidence.”

“America's leading beverage companies are working together to support consumer' efforts to reduce the sugar they consume from our beverages by providing more choices with less sugar or zero sugar, smaller package sizes and clear calorie information right up front,” said Danielle Smotkin spoke for American Beverage Association in response to the results of the study. “That said, America's leading beverage companies are working together to support consumer' efforts to reduce the sugar they consume from our beverages by providing more choices with less sugar or zero sugar, smaller package sizes and clear calorie information right up front.”

To access this paper, please click here

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