Study suggests that consumption of sugary drinks linked to risk of liver cancer

  • A new study has found that a daily soft drink or another sweet drink may be linked to an increased risk of liver cancer.
  • The added sugar in drinks can mess with your insulin and blood sugar levels, which can strain your liver.
  • Sugar is also linked to inflammation and the buildup of fat around the liver, both of which are a risk factor for cancer.

Drinking at least one sugary beverage per day may be associated with an increased risk of liver cancer, according to research presented at the American Dietetic Association’s annual meeting, NUTRITION 2022 LIVE ONLINE, held June 14-16.

Researchers from multiple institutions, including the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, looked at data on 90,504 postmenopausal women, ages 50 to 79, over a nearly 19-year follow-up. They wanted to see if there was a pattern between intake of sugary drinks, such as soda and fruit, and risk of liver cancer.

They found that women who had at least one sweetened drink per day had a 73% higher risk of developing liver cancer compared to women who had three or fewer sweet drinks per month. According to the data, women who drank one or more sweet drinks per day had a 78% higher risk.

Liver cancer is the sixth most common form of cancer diagnosed worldwide, according to the International World Cancer Research Fund, and both cases and related deaths are on the rise in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.

Prior to the study, evidence suggested that other beverage habits could influence liver cancer risk, such as drinking alcohol, which is associated with a higher risk, and coffee, which is associated with a lower risk.

Study results suggest cutting back on sugary drinks may help reduce liver cancer risk, if more research confirms the link, according to Longgang Zhao, the study’s lead author and a doctoral candidate at the University of South Carolina.

“Replacing sugar-sweetened beverages with water and unsweetened coffee or tea can significantly reduce the risk of liver cancer,” Zhao said in a press release.

Sugary drinks may disrupt insulin sensitivity, causing a variety of health problems

Researchers had hypothesized that sweetened beverages might increase the risk of liver cancer due to the side effects of sugar. Eating a lot of sugar can make people less sensitive to insulin, the hormone that helps control blood sugar. Eating large amounts of sugar can also lead to weight gain, which increases the risk of fat forming around the liver. Both factors can harm liver health and are strongly linked to cancer risk, according to the researchers.

However, more research is needed to better understand the relationship between sweetened beverages and liver cancer. The study is limited in that it is observational, indicating a link between liver cancer and sugary drinks, and does not directly show that sweet drinks cause cancer. The researchers wrote that it is not clear whether the link might hold true for other populations, such as younger men and women.

Since some evidence suggests that people are either maintaining their sugary drink habits, or increasing their consumption, Zhao said in the presentation, understanding the risks can help people make healthier decisions about their daily beverage choices.

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