Regularly drinking sugary drinks, even if it is only a small drink a day, could promote the appearance of cancer, suggests a French study published Thursday. And it’s not just about soft drinks or ultra-processed drinks: pure fruit juices are also in the dock.
Rising for several decades all over the world, but particularly in the West, the consumption of sugary drinks is already associated with an increased risk of obesity, a problem that is itself recognized as contributing to the increased risk of cancer. . It is also associated with an increased incidence of type 2 diabetes and a higher risk of hypertension or heart disease, among others.
Researchers from France’s Research Team in Nutritional Epidemiology (EREN) wanted to evaluate the less studied link between sugary drinks and the risk of cancer. They published the results of their work in The British Medical Journal (BMJ).
We found that an increase in the consumption of sugary drinks was clearly associated with the overall risk of cancer and breast cancer.
The authors of the study
“An increase of 100 ml per day on average in the consumption of sugary drinks, which corresponds to a small glass or about a third of standard can [330 ml in Europe and 355 ml in North America], is associated with an 18% increase in cancer risk,”notes Dr. Mathilde Touvier, Director of Eren, a joint Inserm team – INRA – Cnam -Université de Paris.
The risk increase is 22% for breast cancer.
One thing that may come as a surprise is that the increased risk of cancer is present, whether it’s soft drinks, sweet cocktails or pure fruit juice without added sugar, according to the study. Tea or coffee, if sweet, is also a lot.
The researchers found a 30% increase in the diagnosis of “all cancers” in participants consuming the most sugary drinks.
We speak of “association”, since the so-called observational study does not demonstrate a causal link. But she does show a “significant association,” according to Dr. Touvier, whose team took into account other factors that could have affected the results, such as age, lifestyle, activity physical or smoking.
“It is the sugar that seems to play the main role in this association with cancer,” which can not be explained simply by weight gain participants, says the researcher.
Better to “reduce sugar,” she says.
These results will have to be replicated in other large-scale studies before being considered proven, the researchers say. Further research will be needed.
Nevertheless, the present results suggest that sweetened beverages, which are widely consumed in Western countries, may represent a modifiable risk factor for cancer prevention , they add. This is the good news: it is a food habit that everyone has the power to change.
What about aspartame and saccharin?
No link has been established between the consumption of artificially sweetened beverages, so with sweeteners, and the risk of cancer.
However, the statistical significance of the analysis in this area is likely limited by the relatively low consumption of artificial sweeteners among the participants, say the researchers.
Thus, it is not because a link was not found in this study that there is no risk, warns Mathilde Touvier.
Sweeteners are not an alternative and are clearly not recommended for the long term.
Dr. Mathilde Touvier, Director of Eren and one of the authors of the study
A sweet drink contains at least 5% sugar: 250 ml of pure orange juice without added sugar contains more than 20 grams of sugar – about two cubes.
“If you put 10 teaspoons of sugar in your mouth, I’m not sure that you would have the taste to take that,” illustrates the nutritionist Thérèse Laberge Samson. “People do not realize it, because it’s all diluted.”
Methodology of the study
The researchers interviewed more than 101,000 adults participating in the French NutriNet-Santé study, who were, on average, 42 years old and 79% were women. They listed their consumption of some 3,300 foods and beverages.
Participants were followed for up to nine years, from 2009 to 2018. But the median duration of this follow-up was just over five years.
They completed at least two validated online dietary questionnaires about their diet and their daily consumption of sugary drinks [including 100% fruit juice] or artificially sweetened drinks.
During the follow-up, 2193 cases of cancer were recorded on average at 59 years.
For the authors, these results “confirm the relevance of the existing nutritional recommendations to limit the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, including 100% pure fruit juices, as well as political measures” such as taxes and trade restrictions against them.
Yet a year ago, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Noncommunicable Disease Committee distanced itself from a call for taxation of sweetened beverages that it had – even launched two years earlier.
In 2016, WHO had estimated that a 20% increase in the price of sweetened beverages would significantly reduce consumption.
But in 2018, the committee concluded that some points of view were contradictory and could not be resolved, a position that had surprised and troubled many experts .
Thérèse Laberge Samson advocated a more aggressive approach: she would like Health Canada to impose a strict limit on the amount of sugar that can be contained in beverages, especially colored energy drinks that are popular with young people.