The People's Perspective on Medicine

Do Sweet Drinks Boost Your Risk for Cancer?

French people who consume sweet drinks frequently are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer.
Girl and orange juice. Healthy eating  and soft drink for summer vacation concept.

Sugary beverages may increase your risk of developing cancer, according to a French study (BMJ, July 10, 2019). Soda pop is not the only culprit, though. Sweet drinks containing 100 percent fruit juice may also cause trouble.

Sweet Drinks in the Diet:

The prospective cohort investigation called NutriNet-Santé included more than 100,000 middle-aged French adults. They completed a minimum of two validated dietary questionnaires during the roughly nine years of follow-up. All participants were healthy at the outset of the study.

Some People Got Cancer:

More than 2,000 volunteers reported a first diagnosis of cancer during the follow-up time frame, which averaged five years. Analyses show that those who consumed more sweet drinks, including 100 percent fruit juices, were more likely to be diagnosed with cancer. Specifically, an additional half a cup daily increased the likelihood of any cancer by 18 percent and the chance of breast cancer by 22 percent.

There was no association between consumption of artificially sweetened drinks and cancer. However, the authors caution that too few of these French volunteers drank artificially sweetened beverages to draw strong conclusions.

Fruit Juice–Really?

The fact that fruit juices, which usually have a “health halo,” were as risky as soft drinks may be surprising. This is not the first time, however, that scientists have found problems with fruit juices. Earlier this year, a study published in JAMA Network Open demonstrated a link between fruit juice consumption and premature death

Observational studies like this can’t establish cause and effect. Nonetheless, we will be limiting our intake of sweet drinks from now on.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Chazelas E et al, "Sugary drink consumption and risk of cancer: Results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort." BMJ, July 10, 2019. doi:
  • Collin LJ et al, "Association of sugary beverage consumption with mortality risk in US adults: A secondary analysis of data from the REGARDS study." JAMA Network Open, May 17, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.3121
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Did the study look at those of us who may add sugar (not stevia or monkfruit) to coffee or tea?

It’s important for people to know that all beverages – either with sugar or without–are safe to consume as part of a balanced diet. Additionally, the authors of the study acknowledge there is no evidence of causation and should be reviewed with ‘cautious interpretation of the results.’ That said, America’s leading beverage companies are working together to support consumers’ efforts to reduce the sugar they consume from our beverages by providing more choices with less sugar or zero sugar, smaller package sizes, and clear calorie information right up front.

Please note this is the industry perspective.

It is my understanding that oncologists routinely tell their patients to cease consuming sugar. If that’s true, perhaps we should all listen.

From the article: “Analyses show that those who consumed more sweet drinks, including 100 percent fruit juices, were more likely to be diagnosed with cancer. Specifically, an additional half a cup daily increased the likelihood of any cancer by 18 percent and the chance of breast cancer by 22 percent.”

This quote states these stats apply to those who consume “more” sweet drinks. Does the study give a baseline? As in, do study participants on average drink x number of ounces per day, but 8 oz more per day pushes you over the edge into cancer? Or is the comparison between those who *never* drink juice, and those who drink 8 oz a day? And is the rest of their diet the same? As in, are the people drinking juice more likely to be eating more sugar in their food? These are important distinctions.

The baseline comparison is with those who never or almost never drink sweetened beverages.

As described, it’s a pointless study. “Juice” conjures up the image of orange juice but what about grape juice or red wine? Strawberry and prune juices are basically liquified whole fruit. What about vegetable juice? Nature doesn’t know the difference between fruit and vegetable. But, of course, toxic medicines are supposedly good for you.

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