Daily consumption of sugary drinks increases the risk of liver diseases in postmenopausal women, according to a study.

Daily consumption of sugary drinks increases the risk of liver diseases in postmenopausal women, according to a study.

Drinking Sugar-Laden Beverages Increases Risk of Liver Cancer and Chronic Liver Disease in Postmenopausal Women

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Aug. 9, 2023 – Drinking sugar-laden beverages on a regular basis may greatly increase the risk that postmenopausal women may develop liver cancer or die from chronic liver disease, new research suggests.

The study, published in the American Medical Association’s journal, found that women who are beyond menopause and consumed at least one sugar-sweetened beverage daily had an 85% higher risk of developing liver cancer and a 68% higher risk of dying from chronic liver disease compared with those who consumed three servings or fewer per month.

But when looking at consumption of artificially sweetened drinks, researchers found no strong link between intake and the risk of liver cancer or death from chronic liver disease. However, the sample size for that comparison was small and should be “interpreted with caution,” according to Longgang Zhao, PhD, with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

This new study aimed to find out if sugar-sweetened or artificially sweetened beverages could be a risk factor for liver cancer or chronic liver disease, especially considering that approximately 40% of people with liver cancer do not have any of the well-known disease risk factors, such as chronic hepatitis B or C infection, type 2 diabetes, or obesity.

Previous studies only found a potential association between sugar-sweetened beverages and liver cancer. Additionally, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) recently classified the artificial sweetener aspartame as a possible carcinogen, although the evidence of its effect on primary liver cancer in humans is very weak.

To provide greater clarity about a potential link, the research team used the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) to evaluate sugary beverage consumption among nearly 100,000 postmenopausal women and artificially sweetened drink intake among nearly 65,000, following them for nearly 21 years. The study looked at cases of liver cancer and death from chronic liver disease, including nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, liver fibrosis, cirrhosis, alcoholic liver diseases, and chronic hepatitis.

Among these women, nearly 7% consumed at least one sugar-sweetened beverage daily, while 13% consumed one or more artificially sweetened beverage servings daily. Over the follow-up period, 207 women in the sugary beverage group developed liver cancer, and 148 died from chronic liver disease. In the artificial sugar group, 133 women got liver cancer, and 74 died from chronic liver disease.

Compared with women who drank three servings or fewer of sugar-sweetened beverages per month, those who consumed one or more per day had a significantly higher risk of liver cancer and of dying from chronic liver disease. However, there was no significant difference in the groups who only had artificially sweetened drinks.

Xuehong Zhang, a doctor of science at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, explained that it’s not surprising that sugar-sweetened beverages may raise the risk of adverse liver outcomes. Sugary drinks can cause obesity, diabetes, and diseases of the heart and blood vessels, and they may drive insulin resistance and inflammation, all of which can lead to cancer and liver problems.

One of the authors, Nancy S. Reau, MD, a hepatologist at Rush Medical College in Chicago, emphasized the importance of the link between daily consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and liver health. She suggested that this finding can be used as an easy measure for clinicians to capture and an easy behavior for patients to modify.

However, she cautioned against using artificially sweetened beverages as a substitute, citing that the population size in the study might be too small to see a significant signal between artificially sweetened beverages and liver health. She concluded that natural, low-caloric beverages as part of a healthy diet combined with exercise would always be the ideal choice.

In conclusion, the study highlights the significant association between regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and the increased risk of liver cancer and chronic liver disease in postmenopausal women. While more research is needed to understand the potential risks of artificially sweetened beverages, it is clear that reducing the intake of sugary drinks is crucial for maintaining good liver health. Adopting a healthy diet, engaging in regular exercise, and minimizing other risk factors, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and obesity, will contribute to overall cancer prevention efforts. Remember, moderation is key, and choosing natural, low-caloric beverages is always the best option for optimal health.