Studies can be such a bummer. Especially when they tell you that your favorite snacks or beverages will kill you. Now it's soda lovers' turn to be disappointed. Whether you drink full sugary soda or the diet kind, there's bad news on the research front. Two new studies tell us that sugary sodas are linked to cancer, while sugar-free ones can cause heart disease.

Wait, isn't that backward, you may ask? We know that aspartame has long been suspected of being a carcinogen, though the research has been elusive. But it just makes sense that adding chemicals to your diet is not good for you. It's an established fact that aspartame turns into formaldehyde in the body. But a new study has found a link between sugar-free drinks and stroke, heart attack, and elevated risk of heart disease.

Meanwhile, a soda full of sugar would make sense to be linked to heart disease because gaining weight and high blood sugar are precursors to high cholesterol and markers for heart disease and stroke. But what this study found is that drinking two or more sugary drinks a day may raise the risk of dying from cancer, especially colorectal cancer (up 9 percent compared to non-soda drinkers) or kidney cancer (elevated 17 percent over the non-sugary drinking crowd).

Grab a glass of water and read on for what the science says now.

Study: Sugary Drinks Linked to Higher Risk of Dying from Cancer

Researchers looked at data from nearly one million Americans over the course of three decades and found that people who consumed sugary beverages had an elevated risk of dying from cancer, compared to those who did not drink sugar-filled sodas.

In the 27-year study, researchers set out to learn if sugary drinks lead to cancer mortality and reviewed data collected by the American Cancer Society, starting in 1982 with 1,184,284 men and women aged 28 and older enrolled in the Cancer Prevention Study II.

Focusing on 934,777 participants who did not have cancer or diabetes at the start of the study, the researchers followed them over nearly 28 years, during which time 135,093 of the enrolled group died from cancer, nearly 26 percent of all deaths accounted for.

Higher Soda Consumption Elevates Cancer Risk

The research found that if the person drank two sugary drinks a day they had a 9 percent higher risk of dying from colorectal cancer and a 17 percent higher risk of dying from kidney cancer compared to people who avoided sugary beverages.

“This study provides more evidence to support recommendations to cut back on sugary drinks,” said Marji McCullough, senior scientific director of epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta and the study’s lead author. It was not only accountable for the fact that these people had higher BMIs, she added, so the soda must have had some contributing factor, but the exact mechanism that led to the higher risk was not known.

Drinking a similar amount of artificially sweetened drinks was associated with an 11 percent higher risk of pancreatic cancer, she added, regardless of the BMI of the person. “That was a novel finding,” McCullough said. “But this is the one study that found a higher risk of pancreatic cancer and it should be replicated in follow-up studies.”

Because 33 percent of all sugar in the American diet comes from sugary drinks, this new study should have an impact on where Americans choose to get the sugar in their diet. Sugar is often in highly processed foods, junk foods, and sodas, all largely devoid of nutrients. The best way to get sweet calories, for long-term health, is in whole fruit as part of a mostly plant-based diet full of fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.

This study comes on the heels of another one that linked sugary drinks to liver cancer. That study of more than 90,000 postmenopausal women found that those who consumed at least one sugar-sweetened beverage daily faced a 78 percent higher risk of developing liver cancer compared with people who consumed less than three servings per month of such beverages.

Artificial Sweeteners Associated with Strokes, Heart Disease

Before you grab a Diet Coke, a second study tells us that sugar-free sodas are associated with heart disease. This new study has found that people who use artificial sweeteners (which are in diet beverages and other highly processed foods) are more likely to get heart disease.

In a study of 103,388  who were 18 years of age and older and willing to keep food and beverage logs that included their use of artificial sweeteners, researchers divided the consumers into three groups: those who used it a lot, a modest amount, or hardly at all.

Tracking who had the most incidents of cardiovascular disease-related health issues, the researchers found that those who used the most artificial sweeteners also experienced the most cardiovascular disease compared to non-consumers. These health issues included heart attacks, strokes, and more. The sweeteners studied included, among others:
  • Aspartame
  • Sucralose
  • Saccharin
  • Steviol glycosides

“Our results indicate that these food additives, consumed daily by millions of people and present in thousands of foods and beverages, should not be considered a healthy and safe alternative to sugar, in line with the current position of several health agencies,” write the authors.

“Aspartame intake was associated with increased risk of cerebrovascular events, and acesulfame potassium and sucralose were associated with increased coronary heart disease risk,” the authors added. They also said that the occasional use of artificial sweeteners is not as problematic as daily use.

In case you weren't paying attention back in 2019, this is not the first time diet beverages have been associated with heart issues.

A 2019 study found drinking two or more of any kind of artificially sweetened drinks a day was linked to an increased risk of blood clot-based strokes, heart attacks, and early death in women over 50. More research has shown a link between diet beverages and stroke, dementia, Type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, which can lead to heart disease and diabetes.

Bottom Line: Sugary Drinks Linked to Cancer, Artificial Sweeteners to Stroke

Whether you love sugary sodas or artificially sweetened ones, new studies warn that they have each been linked to cancer, stroke, heart disease, and death. The easiest solution is to stay away from these types of beverages, or only sip occasionally as a treat. Want to be your healthiest and avoid an elevated risk of cancer and heart disease? It's simple: Just drink water.

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