Are sugary drinks giving you cancer?

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  Last updated July 16, 2019 at 12:19 pm


Researchers have found that sugary drinks may increase our cancer risk, adding to the long list of reasons why they’re bad for us.

sugary drinks sugar health cancer

Researchers state that daily consumption of sugary drinks can increase cancer risk. Credit: Jose A. Bernat Bacete/Getty Images

Drinking sugary drinks such as soft drinks and fruit juices may increase your cancer risk, French researchers say.

The study is bad news for people drinking a can of soft drink or a glass of juice each day. It found that as little as a 100 mL per day increase in sugary drinks was linked to an 18 per cent increased risk of overall cancer, and a 22 per cent increase in the risk of breast cancer.

This means that if 1000 people increased their daily sugary drink intake by 100ml, you might expect the number of cancer cases to rise from 22 to 26 per 1000 people over a 5-year period.

Sugary drinks are a modifiable risk factor

The paper concludes that “sugary drinks, which are widely consumed in Western countries, might represent a modifiable risk factor for cancer prevention.”

The researchers from Université Sorbonne Paris Cité came to that conclusion after tracking over 100,000 healthy French adults for up to 9 years. The study participants took at least two online questionnaires to measure their intake of 3,300 different food and beverage items.

The study found that even 100 per cent fruit juice, with no added sugar, increased our cancer risk.

Lennert Veerman from Griffith University, who was not involved in the study, says this study is the first to convincingly link these drinks directly to cancer risk.

Allison Hodge from Cancer Council Victoria agrees that this study added weight to the now growing evidence of the link between consuming sugary drinks and cancer risk.

Her own study of more than 35,000 Australians also found that people who regularly drink sugary soft drinks are found to be more at risk of several types of cancer.

“While there were differences in our cohort study and the French cohort, in terms of age and obesity status, the results clearly show the impact of sugary drink consumption on cancer risk,” she says.

How sugary drinks increase cancer is still unknown

Exactly how sugary drinks might lead to cancer is still an unanswered question. The researchers suggest it could be down to the sugar’s effect on fat stored around vital organs or it could be due to higher blood sugar levels, and inflammatory markers, all of which are linked to increased cancer risk.

As this type of research cannot show cause and effect, other experts were cautious about drawing conclusions based on these results.

“What is needed is a better understanding of what might be driving this apparent association, for example if the people drinking the extra sugar were not necessarily more overweight than the controls then this must mean they were consuming less calories in solid food, all things being equal,” says Nikolai Petrovsky from Flinders University.

“It is just as plausible that this could be the true explanation for the effect, as less solid food might translate to less plant based antioxidants and other anticancer molecules.”

Natural isn’t always healthier

Petrovsky also remarks on the higher cancer risk linked to natural fruit juices which are often marketed as a ‘healthier option’ by juice and smoothie companies.

“The population continues to be conned into thinking that ‘natural’ automatically equates to ‘healthier’ which is simply not the case.”.

For those still looking for a way to have their ‘Coke’ and drink it, the research found no increased cancer risk for artificially sweetened ‘diet’ drinks, although some experts warned these can still increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease.

According to dietitian Melanie McGrice there is room for improvement in Australia with one in every two adults drinking soft drinks at least once a week. Perhaps it is time to just have a nice glass of water instead.

You can read the full AusSMC Expert Reaction here.


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About the Author

Lyndal Byford
Lyndal is the Director of News and Partnerships at the Australian Science Media Centre. She spends her days turning complex science papers into tasty morsels to help news journalists cover science. Lyndal has an Honours Degree in Biotechnology from Flinders University and a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication from the Australian National University. She has spent the last 20 years communicating science in a range of settings including science museums, within the pharmaceutical industry and in media relations both here and in the UK. Lyndal regularly speaks about science on ABC Radio National and 2CC in Canberra. Lyndal was also a member of Inspiring Australia’s Science and the Media Expert working group for the Federal Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

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The Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC) is an independent, not-for-profit service for the news media, giving journalists direct access to evidence-based science and expertise. We aim to better inform public debate on the major issues of the day by improving links between the media and the scientific community. The Centre works with journalists to help them cover science as well as identify the science angles in everyday news stories and works with the scientific community to help them interact more effectively with the media and ensure that their voices are heard on issues of national importance.

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