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Sugary drinks linked to breast cancer in new study — experts weigh in

Juice and soda lovers might have been concerned this week to see the release of a study in the British Medical Journal which found the consumption of sugary drinks to be “positively associated with the risk of overall cancer and breast cancer.”

The study, which spanned over 100,000 people in France, included both sugary sodas and 100 percent fruit juice. Mathilde Touvier, PhD, principal investigator of the study, and Eloi Chazelas, a PhD candidate who contributed to it, tell Yahoo Lifestyle in an email that the conclusions fall into largely uncharted territory.

“Very few prospective studies have been conducted on the association between sugary drinks and individual cancers,” Touvier and Chazelas write. “For breast cancer for instance, only two prospective cohorts published results.”

The news is particularly important for women, given that breast cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the most common cancer among females, regardless of race. To gauge the impact of these results, Yahoo Lifestyle got in touch with Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, managing director, nutrition and physical activity at the American Cancer Society. Here’s what you need to know.

A new study from France has linked daily consumption of sugary drinks and juices to an increased risk of developing cancer — including breast. Experts weigh in. (Photo: Getty Images)
A new study from France has linked regular consumption of sugary drinks and juices to an increased risk of developing cancer — including breast. Experts weigh in. (Photo: Getty Images)

Evidence linking sugary drinks to cancer is limited.

Although the BMJ study raises an important point about the dangers of sugary drinks, Doyle says that the study isn’t definitive. “There has been limited evidence connecting sugar sweetened beverages (called ssbs) – or sugar from other sources, for that matter – to either pre- or post-menopausal breast cancer risk,” she says. “And it’s important for people to recognize that this type of study, as the authors report, doesn’t prove that consumption causes cancer.”

That said, concern over sugary drinks is warranted.

Doyle says the results are worth paying attention to because of sugar’s link to obesity. “[There is] a strong connection between the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and excess weight – which is a large risk factor for developing cancer,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Based on data from the CDC, obesity-related cancers make up 40 percent of cancers diagnosed in the U.S.

Limiting sugar intake overall is recommended.

The U.S. ranks the highest in the world for sugar consumption, with Americans averaging more than 126 grams per day (according to the Diabetes Council). Aside from increased weight gain, sugar has been linked to health issues like high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease. For all these reasons, Doyle says limiting it is smart. “This study adds to the science suggesting that it’s a good idea to limit sweetened beverage consumption,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

Exercise, plus limiting alcohol, can help reduce risk.

“For people who don’t smoke, which is the majority of Americans, watching their weight is one of the most important things they can do to reduce their risk of a variety of types of cancer,” says Doyle. She also recommends physical activity and limited alcohol consumption. “There is strong evidence that consuming alcohol increases the risk of post-menopausal breast cancer and probably increases the risk of pre-menopausal,” Doyle tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “So women should watch their alcohol consumption – for a number of reasons, including breast cancer risk.”

Overall, moderation is key.

All of this said, Doyle notes that it may not necessary to entirely eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages from your diet. “Women who drink ssbs should reduce their consumption to hopefully have a positive impact on their weight,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “But there is not evidence that ssbs directly increase breast cancer risk.” The authors of the BMJ study agree. “Of course no food or drink is totally ‘forbidden’!” they tell Yahoo Lifestyle. “If one consumes a sugary drink from time to time, this will not cause major health problem. But daily consumption should definitely be limited.”

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