Sugary Drinks Are Linked to Greater Risk of Early-Onset Colorectal Cancer

Younger women who consume lots of sugar-sweetened beverages double chances of developing colon cancer, study finds.

Everyday Health Archive
One investigation revealed that the risk of developing colorectal cancer doubled in women who each week drank two or more sugary drinks.Canva; Everyday Health

Colorectal cancer has been rising rapidly among young adults. Since the 1990s, the rate of this disease (which includes cancers of the colon and rectum) has more than doubled among adults younger than 50, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

The NCI suggests an unhealthy diet may be a contributing factor. A meta-analysis of more than 100 studies, published April 2018 in the journal Obesity, found that half of younger adults with colorectal cancer were overweight and 17 percent were obese.

A study published in May 2021 the journal Gut lends more support to this notion. The investigation revealed that the risk of developing colorectal cancer doubled in women who each week drank two or more sugary drinks (such as soda, sweetened teas, or sports and energy drinks) compared with those who on average consumed less than one of these products per week.

For the research, Yin Cao, ScD, MPH, associate professor of surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and collaborators reviewed health data on more than 94,000 female registered nurses between the ages of 25 and 42. Every four years, participants completed a questionnaire, which included details on their beverage consumption.

During an average follow-up of 24 years, the scientists observed 109 cases of colorectal cancer among the women. Based on this information, Dr. Cao and the her coauthors calculated that each additional serving of sugary drinks raised the risk of developing colorectal cancer by 16 percent.

In examining a subset of 41,272 nurses who had recorded their sugary drink consumption from ages 13 to 18, researchers found that a serving a day was linked to 32 percent greater likelihood in developing cancer.

They noted that fruit juice or artificially sweetened drinks did not appear to heighten cancer risk.

Alfred Neugut, MD, a professor of cancer research at Columbia University in New York City, who was not involved in the research, notes that the study provides further evidence of the ill health effects of sugar and sweetened beverages. Not only do they contribute to obesity, but they have been linked to other types of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

“The results here join a whole mosaic of negative outcomes for sweetened beverages,” he said.