New study ties liver cancer to sugary drinks
Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, University of South Carolina and other universities drew a connection between liver cancer and regular soda consumption
Heads up, soda drinkers: New research from nutrition experts suggests a link between regular consumption of sugary drinks and cancer in women. The data was presented Tuesday during the American Society of Nutrition’s annual meeting.
More than 90,000 postmenopausal women ages 50 to 79 participated in the study, coordinating with researchers for a median of 18 years. The data indicated that women who drank at least one sweetened drink a day were 78% more likely to develop liver cancer than those who drank less than three sugary drinks per month.
Dr. Xuehong Zhang, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, was the senior author of the study. Zhang told HealthDay News that, “If our findings are confirmed, reducing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption might serve as a public health strategy to reduce liver cancer burden.”
Zhang explained that 65% of white adults reported consuming sweetened drinks on any given day in 2017-2018. That number has steadily declined since 2003, but is still relatively high compared to other countries. Despite the decline, the U.S. continues to hold the second-place spot for most soda consumption worldwide, a related study said.
Zhang and his team have emphasized that the new study does not show that sweet drinks are the direct cause of liver cancer.
“This type of design limits our ability to determine if sugar-sweetened beverages are a primary driver of increased liver cancer incidence, or if sugar-sweetened beverage consumption is only an indicator of unhealthy lifestyles,” Zhang told HealthDay News.
The reasoning behind this claim lies in how sugar affects the body. As explained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an excess of sugar leads to a lowered sensitivity to insulin, which puts the human body at a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes. This sugar surplus also puts an individual at risk for obesity, specifically gaining weight and building fat around the liver. These two health conditions can put immense strain on the liver, and are the primary links observed between liver cancer and the sugar-intake that comes with unhealthy drinks.
“Our findings should be interpreted with caution and replicated in future studies,” Zhang said. Due to the small scope of the study, it is unclear whether sodas, shakes and smoothies share a link to liver cancer in other populations.
According to Longgang Zhao, lead author of the study and doctoral candidate at the University of South Carolina, understanding the risks associated with high sugar-intake could help people make healthier decisions about the beverages they ingest.
“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 nonsugar-sweetened coffee or tea could significantly lower liver cancer risk,” Zhao said in a press release.