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Drinking too many sugary drinks can increase risk of developing cancer

Drinking too many sugary drinks can increase risk of developing cancer

Researchers call for limit on consumption of sugary drinks.

Published: Jul 12, 2019
Category: Research
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Researchers in France have called for people to drink less sugar sweetened drinks after the results of a study found that drinking a lot of sugary fruit juice could increase the risk of developing cancer.

Drinking sugary soft drinks including colas, lemonade and energy drinks can lead to obesity and related health conditions, including type 2 diabetes.

While obesity itself can be a cause of cancer, the results of the study recently published in The BMJ, suggested that there were other reasons sugar consumption could trigger the development of the disease.

Researchers said: “When the group of sugary drinks was split into 100% fruit juices and other sugary drinks, the consumption of both beverage types was associated with a higher risk of overall cancer.”

The study was carried out by Inserm, the French national institute of health and medical research and involved a long-running nutrition survey in France, called NutriNet-Santé, involving 101,257 healthy French adults, 79% of whom were women.

The study considered drinks with high levels of sugar including 100% fruit juices and sugary fizzy drinks.

Researchers found that each additional 100ml of any sugary drink a person drank a day increased the risk of developing cancer by 18%.

An increase in cancer risk was also found with 100% fruit juices, but not with artificially sweetened drinks.

Dr Mathilde Touvier, of Inserm, who led the research, said: “As usual with nutrition, the idea is not to avoid foods, just to balance the intake.

“The recommendation from several public health agencies is to consume less than one drink per day. If you consume from time to time a sugary drink it won’t be a problem, but if you drink at least one glass a day it can raise the risk of several diseases – here, maybe cancer, but also with a high level of evidence, cardiometabolic diseases.”

Consuming less than one sugary drink per day is recommended to reduce the risk of developing health complications

Researchers concluded: “In a context where the World Health Organization is questioning the level of evidence of the scientific data supporting the implementation of a tax on sugary drinks, the results of this observational study based on a large prospective cohort suggest that a higher consumption of sugary drinks is associated with the risk of overall cancer and breast cancer.

“Of note, 100% fruit juices were also associated with the risk of overall cancer in this study. If these results are replicated in further large-scale prospective studies and supported by mechanistic experimental data, and given the large consumption of sugary drinks in Western countries, these beverages would represent a modifiable risk factor for cancer prevention, beyond their well established impact on cardiometabolic health.

“The results 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.”

In response to the study, British Soft Drinks Association Director General Gavin Partington said: “This study reports a possible association between higher consumption of sugary drinks and an increased risk of cancer, but does not provide evidence of cause, as the authors readily admit.

“Soft drinks are safe to consume as part of a balanced diet. The soft drinks industry recognises it has a role to play in helping to tackle obesity which is why we have led the way in calorie and sugar reduction.

“Soft drinks is the only category to have already hit Public Health England’s calorie-reduction target of 20% by 2020, and Kantar Worldpanel data shows overall sugar intake from soft drinks was down by 29% between May 2015 and May 2019.”

Speaking on behalf of the British Fruit Juice Association, Registered Dietitian Helen Bond added: “In contrast to the authors' theories about why 100% fruit juices may be linked with cancer risk, we see clearly from controlled intervention studies that daily consumption of 100% fruit juice lowers inflammation, improves antioxidant status, improves glucose control and does not promote body fat. All of these would reduce cancer risk, not promote it.

“In addition, 100% fruit juices are a major source of vitamin C and plant polyphenols, both of which are associated with a lower cancer risk. The World Cancer Research Fund found no evidence that 100% fruit juice is carcinogenic and maintain that a daily 150ml glass ‘can be part of a healthy, balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle’ and contribute to the 5-a-day fruit and vegetable target.”

NHS Behind the Headlines reported on the study and concluded: “Identifying the direct impact of a specific part of the diet on health is challenging, and the researchers acknowledge that their results need to be confirmed in other large prospective studies.

“Scientific research will also need to look at how sugary drinks might contribute to cancer risk, and whether it's the sugar having an effect or other components of the drinks.

“Making healthy lifestyle changes is the most effective way to reduce your cancer risk.

“These include regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, avoiding smoking and not drinking too much alcohol.”

Read the report in The BMJ
Read the DRWF leaflets A healthy diet and diabetes and Exercise and diabetes here
Category: Research
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