Does Soda Raise Cancer Risk?

Soda has become ubiquitous in our society, and the rate at which we drink these sugared beverages continues to rise. Many health experts are concerned about a link between soda consumption and an increased risk for cancer.

Several studies have linked carbonated soft drinks with a significant increase in the most common type of cancer of the esophagus in white men in the U.S., and less, directly, with an increased risk of colorectal cancer in women. Medical experts suspect the link to esophageal cancer is due to direct exposure to the acid in soda.

The link to colon and rectal cancer is less direct. Colorectal cancer risk increases in women who consume diets with a high glycemic load. Glycemic load refers to the rate at which we convert sugar from carbohydrates to glucose, which our body needs for fuel. Foods with high glycemic values, such as soda, convert fast and cause a rapid influx of sugar, which in turn creates a sudden-and temporary--elevation in energy and mood (the sugar high). We are healthier, however, when we keep our blood sugar at a relatively consistent level.

Soda Consumption and Obesity

People who drink soda are much more likely to become obese, which is a significant risk factor for many types of cancer. Health experts in California, for example, are attributing much of the state's increasing obesity problem to soda consumption. They believe soda accounts for almost half of the additional calories we've added to the typical American diet over the past few decades.

Drinking one or more sodas per day increases your risk of becoming overweight by 27 percent. There are 17 tablespoons of sugar in a 20-ounce serving of soda; so drinking one soda or other sugar-sweetened drink per day means you consume about 39 pounds of sugar in a year—just in beverages.

What about Diet Soda?

Aspartame, a sugar substitute used in some diet sodas, has also been blamed for an increase risk in cancer. However, in 2006, the National Cancer Institute conducted the largest U.S. study to date of diet and cancer and found that aspartame did not increase risk for lymphoma, leukemia, or brain cancer. You may be surprised to learn, however, that people who consume artificial sweeteners still tend to gain weight; so aspartame may still contribute, albeit indirectly, to cancer.

Your best bet to maintain optimal health and reduce your cancer risk is to limit your consumption of soda—diet or regular—and drink plenty of water, herbal teas and other non-sweetened beverages.


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