The NutriNet-Santé Study in France involving more than 101,257 healthy adults (21% men; 79% women) with an average age of 42 years, over a time span of 9 years, has yielded results linking higher consumption of sugary drinks and an increased risk of cancer. The findings add to a growing body of evidence indicating that limiting sugary drink consumption, together with taxation and marketing restrictions, might contribute to a reduction in cancer cases. Sugary Drinks have already been linked to obesity in the past, which is already a strong risk factor for many cancers.
The team of researchers based set out to assess the associations between the consumption of sugary drinks (sugar sweetened beverages and 100% fruit juices), artificially sweetened (diet) beverages, and risk of overall cancer, as well as breast, prostate, and bowel (colorectal) cancers. Well known risk factors for cancer, such as age, sex, educational level, family history of cancer, smoking status and physical activity levels, were taken into consideration.
The average daily consumption of sugary drinks was greater in men than in women (90.3 mL v 74.6 mL, respectively). During follow-up 2,194 first cases of cancer were diagnosed and validated (693 breast cancers, 292 prostrate cancers, and 166 colorectal cancers). Average age at cancer diagnosis was 59 years.
The research concluded that a 100 mL per day increase in the consumption of sugary drinks was associated with an 18.5% increased risk of overall cancer and a 22.5% increased risk of breast cancer.
When the group of sugary drinks was split into fruit juices and other sugary drinks, the consumption of both beverage types was associated with a higher risk of overall cancer. No association was found for prostate and colorectal cancers, but numbers of cases were more limited for these cancer locations.
Possible reasons for these results include the effect of the sugar contained in sugary drinks on visceral fat (stored around vital organs such as the liver and pancreas), blood sugar levels, and inflammatory markers, all of which are linked to increased cancer risk.
Results and data from this study 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.
Reference: Sugary drink consumption and risk of cancer: results from NutriNet-Sante,prospective cohort , BMJ (2019). DOI: 10.1136/bmj.l2408 , https://www.bmj.com/content/366/bmj.l2408