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Sugary drinks and cancer: Is there a link?

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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

Local researchers delve into the association between cancer and sugary drinks.

"I certainly think that research in that regard is not explored enough, or thought of about. I myself don't drink too many sugary drinks,” said local student Jonathan Bray.

"And it leads to obesity, right, so that could also be another factor to consider or diabetes,” said student Catherine Starks.

Researchers believe that a lot of the sugar that we consume comes from sugary drinks.

"An average 12-ounce can of soda, sugary beverage, has 16 teaspoons of sugar,” said Dr. Melinda Sothern, a professor of public health at LSU Health New Orleans.

Experts say nothing about consuming large amounts of added sugar is good for the body.

“When a person ingests sugar, especially added sugar, sugar over and above what they should have, the body is signaled to alter its metabolism to try to use that sugar as a fuel, so insulin levels change” said Sothern.

A study by researchers at LSU Health New Orleans resulted in eye-opening findings about the relationship between sugar-sweetened beverages and cancer.

"The literature shows, and many prior studies, that increased sugary beverage intake is associated with pancreatic cancer, endometrial cancer, and this is the worst part, if you’ve gotten colon cancer, your recurrence rates are higher in those who take in more,” said Sothern, the senior author of the study published in the October issue of Translational Cancer Research.

Researchers examined data from more than 22,100 adults from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The survey measured consumption of soda and other sweetened beverages. It also weighed participants’ cancer, smoking and obesity status, as well as age, gender, race and educational and poverty levels.

"Those who drink more sugary beverages tend to be more overweight. Obesity has been linked to all sorts of cancers,” said Sothern.

The study found that people with no history of cancer had a higher sugar intake than cancer survivors, something that researchers concluded could be due to other factors like age and gender.

However, the sugar intake from beverages among women with cervical cancer history was much higher when compared to survivors of others cancers.

"When we look at the general population, we found that those who are ingesting the most sugary beverages are younger, male, with obesity, tobacco smokers,” Sothern stated.

And in terms of over-consumption of sugar, experts believe socio-economic status is a big factor.

“That's been documented in quite a few studies that those with low incomes, those from a lower socio-economic status and those who live in poorer neighborhoods ingest more sugary beverages. They also tend to be more overweight, and this tends to affect minority populations primarily,” said  Sothern.

Still she stressed that not all sugar is bad.

"Fruit has sugar, so I want everyone to understand that sugar is a nutrient that we all ingest, and the best type of sugar is that that occurs naturally," she said.

And high sugar diets are linked to life-threatening diseases.

"We're not saying that if you drink a lot of beverages with added sugars that will cause you have cancer, it's just a piece of the puzzle,” said Sothern, who advises moderation.

“The message here is, if you want a sugary beverage, the recommendation is three times per week, a 12-ounce can three times per week. Look at it as a treat,” said Sothern.

The LSU team suggests that programs that aim to reduce added sugar consumption focus a great deal on lower socio-economic status young males, as well as cervical cancer survivors.

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