Previously we shared that consuming fruit juice had been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers. At that point, it was thought that the cause behind the increased risk was an increased level of visceral fat (which impacts how the body processes insulin, estrogen, and other hormones), higher blood sugar levels, and inflammation– all which have been associated with higher cancer risk. But as in all research, an association doesn’t mean causation and researchers continued to explore the reason behind the link.
Earlier studies showed that added sugar intake from food and beverages increases the risk of cardiovascular mortality among U.S. adults, including one published in JAMA Network Open which provided evidence that fruit juices alone appear to elevate mortality risks. The study found that each additional 12-ounce serving of fruit juice consumed daily is associated with a 24% higher all-cause mortality risk. Each additional 12-ounce serving of sugary beverages consumed daily is associated with an 11% higher all-cause mortality risk. Think of it this way- between drinking juice with snacks, meals, and grabbing for something to quench thirst, people could potentially consume between 48-60 ounces of juice a day, soaring their chances for developing health issues over the long-term.
But now, a study published September 2022 in Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention resulted in data that links the increased risk of cancers from consuming sugary drinks to BMI. Researchers evaluated participant’s consumption of sugary drinks to find any association to higher risk of all cancers, obesity-related cancers, and 20 other cancer types.
The study was completed over a significant period of time- beginning in 1982- and followed more than 934,000 cancer-free people that provided information on their beverage consumption up until 2016. By that point, over 135,000 participants had died of cancer.
Some highlights of the study include:
- Study data: Drinking more than two sugar-sweetened beverages per day was not associated with all-cancer deaths compared to those who drank none of these beverages, it was associated with an increased risk of obesity-related cancers. This was nullified after adjusting for BMI.
- Being overweight or obese has been tied to a higher risk of 13 different types of cancer including post-menopausal breast cancer, colorectal cancer, kidney (renal cell) cancer, endometrial cancer, thyroid cancer, pancreatic cancer, multiple myeloma, liver cancer, ovarian cancer, adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, gastric cardia (upper stomach) cancer, gallbladder cancer, and meningioma.
- According to research from the American Cancer Society, excess body weight is responsible for about 8% of all cancers in the United States, as well as about 7% of all cancer deaths.
- Study data: The sugar-sweetened beverages were associated with increased death rates from colon and kidney cancer, which still held true after adjusting for BMI.
- Several other studies support the data on colon cancer, showing that increased consumption of sugar filled drinks can even promote the growth of colon cancer. The researchers of one study explained that sugary drinks increase the levels of glucose and fructose in the colon and blood and can be “used by cancer cells to form cellular membranes and signaling molecules, to grow or to influence inflammation”.
- Study data: Participants who consumed artificially sweetened beverages also had an increased risk of pancreatic cancer, even after BMI adjustment.
- Previous studies have shown the connection between increased sugar intake (not just beverages, but all sources), pointing to higher consumption leading to prandial hyperglycemia (post-meal glucose spikes that result in blood vessel constriction, inflammatory reactions and oxidative stress) increasing insulin demand, and decreasing insulin sensitivity.
“Future research should consider the role of BMI in studies of sweetened beverages and cancer risk,” McCullough said in an American Cancer Society news release after the release of the most recent study. “These results should inform public policy regarding sweetened beverage consumption, to decrease the risk of cancer for men and women in the U.S.”
One challenge in the pursuit of decreasing sugar consumption in the form of drinks among children and adults is overcoming the misconception that fruit juice is healthier than other sugary drinks. While the sugar in fruit juices are 100% naturally occurring and there are some vitamins and phytonutrients not present in most sugar-sweetened beverages, once the body metabolizes the sugar, the biological response is essentially the same as it is to added sugar.
It’s widely understood that consuming high levels of sugar, as well as sugar substitutes, results in higher risk of many health concerns. What we drink is often overlooked when considering how healthy we eat- but this information reinforces the importance of being selective of everything we put into our bodies. The bottom line? Reduce sugar intake, and when thirst strikes, reach for water.