The People's Perspective on Medicine

Sweet Beverages Boost Your Risk of Diabetes

People who consume a lot of sweet beverages, including fruit juice, apparently increase their risk of type 2 diabetes and possibly cancer.
Sweet beverages

No one imagines that soft drinks, whether sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners, are health food. But what about fruit juice? Most people do think that juice is healthful. A new study finds that sweet beverages of any sort contribute to a higher risk of diabetes (Diabetes Care, Oct. 2019). 

The Evidence on Sweet Beverages and Diabetes: 

The researchers analyzed data from more than 150,000 women in the Nurses’ Health studies and 34,000 in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. They had followed these individuals for decades, collecting information about diet and lifestyle every few years. They ultimately gathered and analyzed nearly three million person-years of data.

People who increased their consumption of sweet beverages, including fruit juice and artificially sweetened drinks, were more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Specifically, volunteers who reported an extra half-serving daily of sweet beverages over the last four years were 16 percent more likely to get a diabetes diagnosis in the next four-year period. Those who substituted coffee, tea or water for a serving of a sugary beverage actually reduced their diabetes risk modestly.

Other Problems with Soft Drinks:

Diabetes is not the only potential health hazard lurking for people who love sweet beverages. In previous studies, researchers have noted that individuals who consume the most sugar-sweetened drinks and fruit juice are more prone to cardiovascular disease. They are also more likely to have hypertension or gout. Another recent study found that soft drink consumers may die prematurely. Sugary drinks can also stress the kidneys

Sweet Beverages and the Risk of Cancer:

People who consume sugary drinks may have a greater risk of developing cancer, according to a French study (BMJ, July 10, 2019). Soda pop is not the only culprit, though. Sweet beverages containing 100 percent fruit juice may also cause trouble.

The prospective cohort investigation called NutriNet-Santé included more than 100,000 middle-aged French adults. They completed a minimum of two validated dietary questionnaires during the roughly nine years of follow-up. All participants were healthy at the outset of the study.

Some People Got Cancer:

More than 2,000 volunteers reported a first diagnosis of cancer during the follow-up time frame, which averaged five years. Analyses show that those who consumed more sweet drinks, including 100 percent fruit juices, were more likely to be diagnosed with cancer. Specifically, an additional half cup daily increased the likelihood of any cancer by 18 percent and the chance of breast cancer by 22 percent.

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There was no association between consumption of artificially sweetened drinks and cancer. However, the authors caution that too few of these French volunteers drank artificially sweetened beverages to draw strong conclusions.

Fruit Juice–Really?

The fact that fruit juices, which usually have a “health halo,” were as risky as soft drinks may be surprising. This is not the first time, however, that scientists have found problems with fruit juices. Earlier this year, a study published in JAMA Network Open demonstrated a link between fruit juice consumption and premature death

Observational studies like this can’t establish cause and effect. However, an earlier study found a specific link between the consumption of soft drinks and the risk of pancreatic cancer.

Soda Pop and Pancreatic Cancer:

An epidemiological study in Singapore tracked more than 60,000 adults for 14 years (Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, February 2010). Those who drank at least two sodas a week raised their risk of developing pancreatic cancer by nearly 90 percent. Because pancreatic cancer is rare, however, there were only 140 cases during the entire study period. Consequently, the absolute risk, even for soda lovers, is still low. Nonetheless, we worry about the increased risk because pancreatic cancer is so often deadly.

The investigators hypothesized that the sugar in soda causes a rapid increase of insulin, which is produced by the pancreas. Insulin may act as a growth factor for cancer cells, and some scientists believe that sugar itself acts like fertilizer for the growth of tumors.

This was not the first time sugary drinks were linked to a higher risk of pancreatic cancer. Despite this, the findings were controversial. An industry group, the American Beverage Association, maintained that there were flaws in this epidemiological study. In this investigation, people who mostly drank fruit juice did not have a higher risk of pancreatic cancer.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Citations
  • Drouin-Chartier J-P et al, "Changes in consumption of sugary beverages and artificially sweetened beverages and subsequent risk of type 2 diabetes: Results from three large prospective U.S. cohorts of women and men." Diabetes Care, Oct. 2019. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc19-0734
  • Chazelas E et al, "Sugary drink consumption and risk of cancer: Results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort." BMJ, July 10, 2019. doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l2408
  • Collin LJ et al, "Association of sugary beverage consumption with mortality risk in US adults: A secondary analysis of data from the REGARDS study." JAMA Network Open, May 17, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.3121
  • Mueller NT et al, "Soft drink and juice consumption and risk of pancreatic cancer: The Singapore Chinese Health Study." Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, February 2010. DOI: 10.1158/1055-9965
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I am distressed to read in this article about fruit juices and diabetes. I started drinking tart cherry juice as a natural help for osteoarthritis. I buy organic juice that has 25 grams of sugar and no added sugar. I am also concerned about diabetes. My mother and all of her seven siblings had Type 2 diabetes; a few in my generation now have Type 2. Would you suggest that I stop drinking the tart cherry juice?

You might consider switching to low or no sugar capsules instead of juice. We really don’t have quite enough information to guide your decision.

I don’t drink sodas but sometimes enjoy a sweet coffee, tea, or a glass of fruit juice. I’ve also recently added a tablespoon of sour cherry juice extract daily to help me sleep–which works. But that section of the article isn’t helpful and has me concerned; an “additional half cup daily” tells me nothing.

What is the baseline? Without that information, there are no guidelines anyone can actually use. The people in the study seem to be already drinking some amount of sweetened drinks but exactly what kind and how much?

Thank you

These findings seem obvious.

I know of at least two persons who were very heavy Pepsi drinkers, who have died of pancreatic cancer. I do see the possible link with soft drinks vs. cancer. And my own brother drank many Pepsi products as a youngster, and was diagnosed at age 10 with Type 2 diabetes. My sister and I never drank soft drinks. We have not developed diabetes in all these many years later.

We need to keep reading things like this for those who have diabetes, like my friend in Florida. She likes to drink soda daily, in spite of my mailing articles like this to her, like I just did now!

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