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Cancerous cells are ferocious. Once hatched, they tend to invade other areas of the body, which can render treatments ineffective. However, you can erect barriers against the threat of cancer, namely by leading a healthy lifestyle. A recent review suggests it would be wise to cut back on sugar-sweetened beverages.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are any liquids that are sweetened with various forms of added sugars such as brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, and sucrose.
“Examples of SSBs include, but are not limited to, regular soda (not sugar-free), fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened waters, and coffee and tea beverages with added sugars.”
The associations SSB consumption and “the risk of stroke, depression, cancer, and cause-specific mortality have not been determined, and the quantitative aspects of this link remain unclear”, researchers wrote in the review published in the journal Nutrients.
To plug this gap in knowledge, they conducted “a systematic review and dose-response analysis to determine their causal links”.
A dose-response analysis determines whether increasing levels of exposure to a substance are associated with either an increasing or a decreasing risk of the specific outcome.
In this case, researchers assessed whether the quantity of SSB consumed had an impact on the risk of cancer and other outcomes.
The researchers sifted through a number of databases, including PubMed, Cochrane library and Embase, Web of Science up to 10 November 2021.
What did the researchers learn?
Higher levels of SSB consumption “significantly” increased the risk of cancer compared with none or lower SSB intake.
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The risk association was also found to be significant for depression, stroke and all-cause mortality.
The associations were dose-dependent, with every 250 mL increment of SSB intake daily increasing the risk of stroke, depression, cancer, and all-cause mortality, the researchers found.
A further analysis suggested that higher SSB intake increased ischaemic stroke by 10 percent, CVD-caused mortality by 13 percent, and cancer-caused mortality by six percent when compared to none or lower SSB consumption.
The researchers concluded that the literature suggests SSB consumption is a “leading risk factor” for cancer and other life-threatening complications and that the “risk rises in parallel with the increment of SSB intake”.
Research elsewhere has found this association. A study published by the BMJ reports a possible association between higher consumption of sugary drinks and an increased risk of cancer.
Team of researchers based in France set out to assess the associations between the consumption of sugary drinks (sugar sweetened beverages and 100 percent fruit juices), artificially sweetened (diet) beverages, and risk of overall cancer, as well as breast, prostate, and bowel (colorectal) cancers.
Their findings are based on 101,257 healthy French adults (21 percent men; 79 percent women) with an average age of 42 years at inclusion time from the NutriNet-Santé cohort study.
Participants completed at least two 24-hour online validated dietary questionnaires, designed to measure usual intake of 3,300 different food and beverage items and were followed up for a maximum of nine years (2009-2018).
Daily consumption of sugary drinks (sugar sweetened beverages and 100 percent fruit juices) and artificially sweetened (diet) beverages were calculated and first cases of cancer reported by participants were validated by medical records and linked with health insurance national databases.
Several well known risk factors for cancer, such as age, sex, educational level, family history of cancer, smoking status and physical activity levels, were taken into account.
Average daily consumption of sugary drinks was greater in men than in women (90.3 mL v 74.6 mL, respectively). During follow-up 2,193 first cases of cancer were diagnosed and validated (693 breast cancers, 291 prostate cancers, and 166 colorectal cancers). Average age at cancer diagnosis was 59 years.
The results show that a 100 mL per day increase in the consumption of sugary drinks was associated with an 18 percent increased risk of overall cancer and a 22 percent increased risk of breast cancer.
The jury is out
It’s important to note that the link is far from conclusive so further research needed to confirm it.
Indeed, extensive evidence mainly suggests the link is more indirect. For example, Cancer Research UK says eating sugar doesn’t cause cancer. This is true for all types of sugar, including refined sugar.
“But too much sugar in our diets can make it harder to keep a healthy weight. And being overweight or obese increases the risk of 13 types of cancer,” notes the charity.
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