A recent study of more than 90,000 postmenopausal women found that those who consumed at least one sugar-sweetened beverage a day reportedly had a 78% higher risk of developing liver cancer compared with those who drank (less than three) such beverages a month.
Cancer of the liver has been linked to poor lifestyle choices, therefore, the objective of the recent study, which was published in Current Developments in Nutrition, was to reportedly find out if sugar-sweetened beverages play a role.
Longgang Zhao, a doctoral candidate at the University of South Carolina, the study’s lead author is reported to have said, “Our findings suggest sugar-sweetened beverage consumption is a potentially modifiable risk factor for liver cancer,” Express reports.
He adds,” 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.”
As part of the study, researchers analyzed data from 90,504 postmenopausal women who had participated in the Women’s Health Initiative, which was a long-term study launched in the early 1990s.
The participants were asked to complete baseline questionnaires (in the mid-1990s), and were tracked for a median of 18 years – meaning half the participants were followed longer, and half of them for lesser time.
It was found that 7% of the participants reported drinking (one or more 12-ounce servings) of sugar-sweetened drinks daily. Thus, a total of 205 women amongst the participants developed liver cancer during the follow-up.
Additionally, amongst those who drank (one or more sugar-sweetened drinks) per day were found to be 78% more likely to develop liver cancer and those participants who consumed (at least one soft drink daily) were 73 percent more likely to develop liver cancer, compared with those who never drank these beverages or consumed less than three of such drinks per month.
The liver cancer diagnoses were confirmed using participants’ medical records.
However, despite these findings, researchers have reportedly emphasized that this study cannot prove sugary drinks causes liver cancer, only that there appears to be a link between regular consumption of sugary drinks and cancer.
They have 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.
Researchers reportedly noted that sugar-sweetened drinks may lead to an increased risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes, both of which are risk factors for liver cancer.
These sugary drinks also contribute to an impaired response to insulin and to a build-up of fat in the liver – both factors in liver health.
Speaking about the link between sugary drinks and liver cancer, Zhao is reported to have said, “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.”
According to Cancer Research UK, there is no good evidence that sugar directly causes cancer. However, the charity adds that there is an indirect link between the risk of developing cancer and the consumption of sugar.
They reportedly said, “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.”
Furthermore, in a previous study (in 2019) Cancer Research did mention that those people who consumed more sugary drinks had a slightly increased risk of cancer, irrespective of their body weight.
It adds, “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 concludes.
Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Health in New York City, in an earlier report that featured in U.S News in June, is reported to have said, it’s hard to tell from the study if the relationship between sugar-sweetened beverages and liver cancer isn’t just one marker of an unhealthy lifestyle.
“The question is: What are the lifestyles of the people who consume at least one 12-ounce sugar-sweetened beverage a day?” she noted. “Is this population more likely to consume less fiber, fewer fruits and vegetables, and more likely to eat more red and processed meat, junk and fast food, and less likely to exercise?”
She also said, there is a large gap between consuming one or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day, compared with three servings a month.
“All of this said, sodas, fruit drinks, and other sugar-sweetened beverages have no nutritional value, contribute to overweight and obesity and several associated chronic diseases.”
“There is no reason to be drinking them other than we have become used to doing so, and are encouraged to continue drinking them by media and advertising campaigns.
“Water, seltzer, teas, herbal teas and even a splash of 100% fruit juice with water or seltzer are healthier choices,” she said.