News Release 6-May-2021
Sugary beverage consumption in adolescence, young adulthood associated with increased risk
Washington University School of Medicine
Colorectal cancer diagnoses have increased among people under age 50 in recent years and researchers are seeking reasons why. A new study led by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has found a link between drinking sugar-sweetened beverages and an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer in women under age 50. The findings suggest that heavy consumption of sugary drinks during adolescence (ages 13 to 18) and adulthood can increase the disease risk.
The study, published online May 6 in the journal Gut, provides more support for public health efforts that encourage people to reduce the amount of sugar they consume.
“Colorectal cancer in younger adults remains relatively rare, but the fact that the rates have been increasing over the past three decades — and we don’t understand why — is a major public health concern and a priority in cancer prevention,” said senior author Yin Cao, ScD, an associate professor of surgery and of medicine in the Division of Public Health Sciences at Washington University. “Due to the increase in colorectal cancer at younger ages, the average age of colorectal cancer diagnosis has gone down from 72 years to 66 years. These cancers are more advanced at diagnosis and have different characteristics compared with cancers from older populations.
“Our lab is funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network to identify risk factors, the molecular landscapes, and precision screening strategies for these cancers so that they can be detected earlier and even prevented,” said Cao, who also has a master’s of public health. “In past work, we have shown that poor diet quality was associated with increased risk of early-onset colorectal cancer precursors, but we have not previously examined specific nutrients or foods.”
Compared with women who drank less than one 8-ounce serving per week of sugar-sweetened beverages, those who drank two or more servings per day had just over twice the risk of developing early-onset colorectal cancer, meaning it was diagnosed before age 50. The researchers calculated a 16% increase in risk for each 8-ounce serving per day. And from ages 13 to 18, an important time for growth and development, each daily serving was linked to a 32% increased risk of eventually developing colorectal cancer before age 50.
Sugar-sweetened drink consumption has been linked to metabolic health problems, such as type 2 diabetes and obesity, including in children. But less is known about whether such high-sugar beverages could have a role in the increasing incidence of colorectal cancer in younger people. Like early-onset colorectal cancer rates, consumption of such drinks has increased over the past 20 years, with the highest consumption level found among adolescents and young adults ages 20 to 34.
The researchers analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health Study II, a large population study that tracked the health of nearly 116,500 female nurses from 1991 to 2015. Every four years, participants answered surveys that included questions about diet, including the types and estimated amounts of beverages they drank. Of the total participants, over 41,000 also were asked to recall their beverage habits during their adolescence.
The researchers identified 109 diagnoses of early-onset colorectal cancer among the nearly 116,500 participants.
“Despite the small number of cases, there is still a strong signal to suggest that sugar intake, especially in early life, is playing a role down the road in increasing adulthood colorectal cancer risk before age 50,” said Cao, also a research member of Siteman Cancer Center. “This study, combined with our past work linking obesity and metabolic conditions to a higher risk of early-onset colorectal cancer, suggests that metabolic problems, such as insulin resistance, may play an important role in the development of this cancer in younger adults.”
With the increasing rates in mind, the American Cancer Society has recently lowered the recommended age for a first screening colonoscopy to 45, down from the previously recommended age 50 for people at average risk. Those with additional risk factors, such as a family history of the disease, should start even earlier, according to the guidelines.
Since the study only included female nurses, most of whom were white, more work is needed to examine this link in people of more diverse races, ethnicities and genders.
While sugar-sweetened beverages were linked to an increased risk of early-onset colorectal cancer, some other drinks — including milk and coffee — were associated with a decreased risk. This observational study can’t demonstrate that drinking sugary beverages causes this type of cancer or that drinking milk or coffee is protective, but the researchers said that replacing sweetened beverages with unsweetened drinks, such as milk and coffee, is a better choice for long-term health.
“Given this data, we recommend that people avoid sugar-sweetened beverages and instead choose drinks like milk and coffee without sweeteners,” Cao said.
Co-authors of the study include Ebunoluwa Otegbeye, MD, a general surgery resident at Washington University working in the Cao lab. Otegbeye is supported by the Surgical Oncology Basic Science and Translational Research Training Program. Collaborators include researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School.
This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), grant numbers U01 CA176726, R01 CA205406, R21 CA230873, R01 CA151993, R35 CA197735, R35 CA253185, R03 CA197879, R21 CA222940, R37 CA246175, K07 CA218377 and T32 CA009621; the Department of Defense, grant number CA160344; the Project P Fund; the Stuart and Suzanne Steele MGH Research Scholarship; and an Investigator Initiated Grant from the American Institute for Cancer Research.
Hur J, et al. Sugar-sweetened beverage intake in adulthood and adolescence and risk of early-onset colorectal cancer among women. Gut. May 6, 2021.
Washington University School of Medicine’s 1,500 faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is a leader in medical research, teaching and patient care, consistently ranking among the top medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.
Here is another report
News Release 6-May-2021
High sugar-sweetened drinks tally linked to doubling in bowel cancer risk before age 50
Each daily serving associated with 16% higher risk — at least in women
Drinking two or more daily sugar-sweetened beverages in adulthood is linked to a doubling in the risk of bowel cancer before the age of 50–at least in women, finds research published online in the journal Gut.
And each daily serving is associated with a 16% higher risk, rising to 32% per daily serving during the teenage years, the findings indicate.
Cases of bowel cancer diagnosed before the age of 50, formally known as early onset colorectal cancer, have been increasing in many high income countries over the past two decades. But it’s not clear why.
In the US, adults born around 1990 run twice the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer of adults born around 1950.
Sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks, fruit flavoured drinks, sports and energy drinks, make up the leading (39%) source of added sugar in US diets, and 12% of the population drinks more than three servings (8 fl oz each) every day.
Heavy consumption has been linked to a heightened risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Although these drinks have steadily risen in popularity, particularly among teens and young adults, it’s not known if this intake might also be associated with a heightened risk of bowel cancer in mid-life.
To explore this further, the researchers drew on information provided by 95,464 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study II, an ongoing monitoring study of 116,429 US female registered nurses aged between 25 and 42 at enrolment in 1989.
The women reported what they ate and drank, using validated food frequency questionnaires every 4 years, starting in 1991. And 41,272 of them reported on what, and how much, they drank during their teenage years (13-18) in 1998.
Information was also supplied on potentially influential factors, including family history of bowel cancer, lifestyle, regular use of aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and vitamin supplements.
In 1989, participants were additionally asked to recall their health status, weight (BMI) and lifestyle in their teenage years.
During 24 years of monitoring, 109 women developed bowel cancer before the age of 50. Higher intake of sugar-sweetened drinks in adulthood was associated with a higher risk of the disease after accounting for potentially influential risk factors.
Compared with those who drank less than one serving a week, women who drank 2 or more every day were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with bowel cancer, with each daily serving associated with a 16% higher risk.
Among the 41,272 who reported on their teen patterns of consumption, each daily serving was associated with a 32% higher risk of subsequently developing the disease before the age of 50.
Substituting sugar-sweetened drinks with artificially sweetened beverages, coffee, or semi-skimmed or whole milk was associated with a 17% to 36% lower risk of a bowel cancer diagnosis before the age of 50.
This is an observational study, and as such, can’t establish cause, only correlation. And given that most participants were white women, the findings may not be applicable to men or other racial/ethnic groups, acknowledge the researchers.
Nevertheless, they point out that there are some biologically plausible explanations for their findings: sugar-sweetened drinks suppress feelings of satiety, so risking excess energy intake and associated weight gain.
These drinks also prompt a rapid rise in blood glucose and insulin secretion, which, over the long term, can induce insulin resistance, inflammation, obesity and type 2 diabetes, they add.
Emerging evidence also suggests that fructose can impair gut barrier function and increase gut permeability, which could promote the development of cancer, suggest the researchers.
“[Sugar-sweetened beverage] consumption may contribute to the rising incidence of [early onset bowel cancer],” they suggest.
“Reducing intake and/or [substitution] with other healthier beverages among adolescents and young adults may serve as a potential actionable strategy to alleviate the growing burden of bowel cancer before the age of 50],” they conclude.
Notes for editors
Research: Sugar-sweetened beverage intake in adulthood and adolescence and risk of early-onset colorectal cancer among women doi 10.1136/gutjnl-2020- 323450
Funding: National Institutes of Health
Link to Academy of Medical Sciences labelling system http://press.psprings.co.uk/AMSlabels.pdf