Consuming more sugar-sweetened beverages was linked to a higher risk for early-onset colorectal cancer (diagnosed before age 50) in a recent study published in the journal Gut.
Sugar-sweetened beverages have long been suspected of carrying unique health risks, since they can result in people consuming large quantities of sugar without experiencing the feelings of satiety — and potentially the wide range of digestive hormones — that normally come with intake of food. The current body of research shows that drinking more sugar-sweetened beverages is clearly linked to a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and that while the connection isn’t as clear, artificially sweetened beverages may do the same. But not as much research has been devoted to looking at the connection between sugar-sweetened beverages and the risk for colorectal cancer, which has seen a troubling rise in younger adults in recent years.
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For the latest study, researchers looked at data from a large study of women called the Nurses’ Health Study II, which was conducted between 1991 and 2015. As part of the study, participants completed detailed dietary questionnaires every four years, and they had their health outcomes tracked for the duration of the study’s follow-up period. Out of the 95,464 participants who reported their beverage intake during adulthood, a smaller subset of 41,272 also reported their beverage intake between ages 13 and 18, while they were in high school in 1998. The researchers then looked at the relationship between intake of sugary beverages during both adolescence and adulthood, and the risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Sugary drinks linked to early-onset colorectal cancer risk
During the study period, 109 women developed early-onset colorectal cancer. Compared with participants who consumed less than one serving of sugar-sweetened beverages each week during adulthood, those who reported consuming two or more servings each day were more than twice (2.18 times) as likely to develop colorectal cancer. With each additional serving per day, participants were 16% more likely to develop colorectal cancer. Between ages 13 and 18, consuming an additional serving of sugar-sweetened beverages each day was linked to a 32% increase in the risk of developing early-onset colorectal cancer during adulthood. By looking at the intake of other beverages, the researchers calculated that replacing one serving of sugar-sweetened beverages each day with coffee, milk, or artificially sweetened beverages was linked to a 17% to 36% lower risk for colorectal cancer.
The researchers concluded that reducing consumption of sugary beverages in adolescents and young adults could be an effective strategy for reducing the increasing burden of early-onset colorectal cancer. More research is needed, though, to get a fuller picture of the factors responsible for the rising incidence of early-onset colorectal cancer.
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