Popular drink may increase risk of cancer by 78% – it’s not alcohol

Liver cancer: Expert discusses symptoms and treatments

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Cancer can visit anyone at any time but there are proven ways to modify your risk. A recent study makes a compelling case for cutting back on sugar-sweetened beverages. A study of more than 90,000 postmenopausal women found that those who consumed at least one sugar-sweetened beverage daily faced a 78 percent higher risk of developing liver cancer compared with people who consumed less than three servings per month of such beverages.

“Our findings suggest sugar-sweetened beverage consumption is a potential modifiable risk factor for liver cancer,” said Longgang Zhao, a doctoral candidate at the University of South Carolina, the study’s lead author.

“If our findings are confirmed, reducing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption might serve as a public health strategy to reduce liver cancer burden. Replacing sugar-sweetened beverages with water, and non-sugar-sweetened coffee or tea could significantly lower liver cancer risk.”

Cancer of the liver has been linked to poor lifestyle decisions. The recent study, published in Current Developments in Nutrition, sought to find out if sugar-sweetened beverages could play a role.

Researchers analysed data from 90,504 postmenopausal women who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative – a long-term study launched in the early 1990s.

Participants completed baseline questionnaires in the mid-1990s and were tracked for a median of 18 years.

Researchers assessed sugar-sweetened beverage intake based on validated food frequency questionnaires and confirmed liver cancer diagnoses using participants’ medical records.

About seven percent of participants reported consuming one or more 12-ounce servings of sugar-sweetened beverages per day and a total of 205 women developed liver cancer.

Women consuming one or more sugar-sweetened beverages daily were 78 percent more likely to develop liver cancer and those consuming at least one soft drink per day were 73 percent more likely to develop liver cancer compared with those who never consumed these beverages or consumed less than three servings per month.

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Although more studies would be needed to determine the factors and mechanisms behind the linkage, researchers said that higher sugar-sweetened beverage consumption might increase the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, which are in turn risk factors for liver cancer.

These beverages also can contribute to insulin resistance and to the build-up of fat in the liver, both of which influence liver health.

“Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, a postulated risk factor for obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, may drive insulin resistance and inflammation which are strongly implicated in liver carcinogenesis,” Mr Zhao said.

Study limitations

Researchers cautioned that the study is observational and was not designed to determine whether sugar-sweetened beverages actually cause liver cancer or if consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is an indicator of other lifestyle factors that lead to liver cancer.

In addition, since the study focused on postmenopausal women, studies involving men and younger women are needed to examine the associations more comprehensively.

Indeed, Cancer Research UK says there is no good evidence that sugar directly causes cancer.

The charity adds that there is an indirect link between cancer risk and sugar.

“Eating lots of sugar over time can cause you to gain weight, and robust scientific evidence shows that being overweight or obese increases the risk of 13 different types of cancer.”

Cancer Research did cite a previous study in 2019, which found that people who drank more sugary drinks had a slightly increased risk of cancer, regardless of body weight.

“The study took weight into account, but there are still lots of unanswered questions.”

Although the study “suggested there could be something else going on”, more studies will be needed to investigate this, it adds.

Nonetheless, cutting down on added sugar provides myriad health benefits.

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