The study, carried out in France, is the first substantial piece of research to find a specific association between sugar and cancer.
Drinking large amounts of fruit juice may raise your risk of cancer, according to a big study which has found a link between the regular consumption of all kinds of sugary drinks and the likelihood of developing the disease.
The study, carried out in France, is the first substantial piece of research to find a specific association between sugar and cancer. Sugary drinks such as colas, lemonade and energy drinks have been linked to obesity, which is a cause of cancer, but the French researchers suggest there could also be other reasons sugar could trigger it.
The study, published in the BMJ, finds the association with cancer is just as strong with fruit juices as it is with colas. “When the group of sugary drinks was split into 100% fruit juices and other sugary drinks, the consumption of both beverage types was associated with a higher risk of overall cancer,” it says.
Cutting down on the amount of sugary drinks we all consume, together with sugar taxes and restrictions on marketing, might help reduce the cancer burden, say the authors. That does not mean nobody should ever drink them. “As usual with nutrition, the idea is not to avoid foods, just to balance the intake,” said Dr Mathilde Touvier, who led the research, from Inserm, the French national institute of health and medical research.
“The recommendation from several public health agencies is to consume less than one drink per day. If you consume from time to time a sugary drink it won’t be a problem, but if you drink at least one glass a day it can raise the risk of several diseases – here, maybe cancer, but also with a high level of evidence, cardiometabolic diseases.”
Fruit juices showed the same association with cancer as colas. “The main driver of the association seems to be sugar, so when we just look at the sugar content per 100ml, regular Coke or 100% orange juice, for instance, are quite the same. So it’s not so odd that we observe this association for fruit juices,” said Touvier.
But public health agencies say that fruit juices are a little bit better because they contain some vitamins and a little bit of fibre, she added.
The study is observational, so it is not possible for the researchers to state that sugar is a cause of cancer. The authors call for that to be investigated further. They say there are plausible biological mechanisms, such as the effect of sugar on the 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.