If you’re tempted to sip on an ice-cold soda during the warmer months, we can’t blame you. The crisp, refreshing flavor and the burst of sweetness can make you feel renewed on a hot and tiresome day, but the instant gratification may not be worth it — even if you choose diet soda.
More recently, sugary beverages have been associated with a higher risk of colorectal cancer, says research published in the peer-reviewed journal, Gut. Since colorectal cancer diagnoses have increased among adults younger than 50 in recent years, scientists have been searching for reasons why. The study authors noted that the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks has significantly increased across generations of adults, up until those born after 2000. As a result, investigators wanted to determine whether the correlation between colorectal cancer and sugary drinks was just a coincidence or not.
Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis examined the dietary habits and risk of colorectal cancer in 95,464 women. All participants had self-reported their intake of sugary drinks on a questionnaire every four years. In fact, 41,272 participants even filled out the questionnaires in their teenage years as a high school requirement. Those women reported that they drank sugar-sweetened beverages from 13 to 18 years old, suggesting that the habit started early on.
Over the years, investigators documented 109 early-onset colorectal cancer cases among all participants. They found that women who drank two or more sugary drinks every day were more than twice as likely to develop colorectal cancer than those who drank less than one serving per week. And for every extra serving of sugary drinks per day, the risk increased by 16 percent. For those who drank sweetened beverages when they were 13 to 18 years old, each daily serving increased the risk by 32 percent.
On a positive note, adults who replaced every daily serving with a low-sugar or artificially-sweetened alternative, such as coffee or low-fat milk, lowered their risk for colorectal cancer up to 36 percent. This suggests that the damage caused by sugary drinks is reversible if the drinks are eliminated from a person’s diet.
Previous research backs up the sugary beverage study in Gut. Doctors from Weill Cornell Medicine and the Baylor College of Medicine, for instance, discovered in their lab work that sugar-water can boost tumor growth in mice with colorectal cancer. The reason? Fructose and glucose levels can increase in the colon and the blood after consuming a sugary drink. Pre-existing tumors in the colon can easily take up and use the sugars. As it turns out, the sugar that the scientists tested was high-fructose corn syrup, which usually appears in high-calorie sodas.
This research shows just how important it is to cut down on sodas, sweet teas, and lemonades, even when you are young. If you are struggling to make the switch from sugary drinks to no-sugar drinks, consider trying a gradual approach. Find alternatives to sugar that you will enjoy, rather than just cutting out sweetened beverages completely. After all, going cold turkey might make it harder for you to drop your old habits. With careful consideration and a few crucial beverage swaps, you may be able to significantly lower your risk of colorectal cancer.