Liver Cancer Risk Linked to Sugary Drinks, But Not Artificially Sweetened Ones: Study

Despite growing concerns over the health risks of artificial sweeteners, researchers found no link between consuming them and an increased risk of liver cancer.

Drinking more than one sugar-sweetened drink per day increases a person’s risk of developing liver cancer and dying from chronic liver disease, according to the findings of a new study. However, the same side effects were not linked to drinks that contain artificial sweeteners, which have separately been linked to potential health concerns in recent months.

Postmenopausal women who drank one or more sugary drinks per day faced an 85% increased risk of developing liver cancer compared to women who drank three sugary drinks or less per month, according to research published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Roughly 65% of adults in the United States consume sugar-sweetened drinks on a daily basis.

Sugary Drinks Linked to Increased Liver Cancer Risks

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston’s Massachusetts General Health Care System studied nearly 99,000 postmenopausal women ages 50 to 79 who were enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative from 1993 to 1998. The study was conducted at 40 clinical centers in the U.S., and the subjects were followed for 21 years.

During the study follow-up period, participants were asked how often they consumed sugar-sweetened soft drinks and fruit drinks. This included beverages like soda, Gatorade, sweetened coffees or Frappuccino, iced tea, and other sugar-sweetened drinks, but not pure fruit juice.

Participants reported a range of consumption from low to high, including never consuming sugary drinks, consuming less than one per month, and consuming six or more per day.

Nearly 7% of participants consumed one or more sugar-sweetened beverages per day, and 13% drank one or more artificially sweetened beverages per day, the findings indicate. During the study, 207 women developed liver cancer, and 148 developed chronic liver disease.

Participants who drank three or more sugar-sweetened drinks a day had an 85% increased risk of developing liver cancer compared to those who had sugary drinks less than three times per month. Similarly, the women who drank three or more servings of sugar-sweetened drinks per day faced a 68% increased risk of dying from chronic liver disease not caused by alcohol.

Drinking sugary drinks on a regular basis impacts a person’s health in other ways. Previous research indicates that people who drink soda, sports drinks, or other sugary beverages face a 28% increased risk of early death from any cause and a 31% increased chance of early death from cardiovascular disease.

Increased intake of sugar also increases a person’s risk of suffering from a number of health conditions including diabetes, heart attack, and different types of cancer. A Harvard study published in 2022 also pointed to an 80% increased risk of liver cancer among women who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages every day.

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No Increased Cancer Risk from Artificial Sweeteners

People who consume artificial sweeteners like Equal and Splenda may not face the same risks as those consuming beverages made with actual sugar, researchers of this latest study found. But prior research has indicated that artificial sweeteners like Sweet n’ Low and acesulfame-K carry their own risks.

A study published in June indicated that using Splenda to sweeten drinks caused damage to DNA, intestinal inflammation and may also increase the risk of cancer. After analyzing more than 1,000 studies focusing on aspartame’s health effects, the World Health Organization declared the artificial sweetener was a possible cancer risk to consumers.

Another study published this year warned Erythritol, a wood sugar used as a low-calorie sweetener alternative, may increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and could be linked to nearly double the risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.


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