Friday, March 12, 2021

Added Sugar And Risk Of Cancer

Most of us realize that sugar is not the healthiest thing to include in our diet. For decades, we have known that sugar increases risk of cavities and is a source of nutritionally empty calories. However, added sugar has a much more sinister side. More recently, it has been associated with increases in risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. A study was recently published in a French cohort that examines the association between sugar consumption and risk of cancer (Reference 1).

The Article

In this interesting study, over 100,000 participants from the French Nutrinet-Sante cohort had their added sugar intake measured repeatedly and were followed for an average of 6 years for incidence of cancer. Sugar intake was assessed by means of multiple 24-hour dietary records that were repeated every 6 months to account for changes in diet. Here are some of the results of this important investigation:

 -Total sugar consumption was significantly associated with a 17% higher overall cancer risk when comparing those who consumed the most sugar with those who consumed the least.

 -Breast cancer was the cancer most significantly elevated, with a 51% increased risk when comparing those who consumed the most sugar to those who consumed the least.

 -These results remained significant when weight gain was adjusted for in statistical modeling.

Conclusions And Recommendations

This is an interesting and important study. Sugar consumption has already been associated with dental caries, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity. It is becoming clear that we can add cancer to the list.

There are several potential mechanisms to explain the association between sugar consumption and risk of cancer:

1) A high intake of sugar can lead to excess calorie consumption and obesity. This can increase risk of cancer. However, keep in mind that these results persisted after adjusting for weight loss, so there is something more going on here.

2) Oxidative stress is theorized to increase with a high sugar consumption. This can also increase risk of cancer.

3) Sugar can also increase inflammation, which may increase risk of cancer.

4) Sugar is a very high glycemic load carbohydrate, and the glycemic load of the diet has been associated with an increased risk of cancer.

Limiting sugar consumption is complicated because it is so very addictive for most of us. It may seem counter-intuitive, but I have found with my clients that giving up sugar 100% is far easier than giving it up 75%. The best bet is to give up sugar entirely. After 2 weeks, you won’t even miss it.  Since we all want something sweet now and again, have a sugar free dessert once or twice a week. This is a strategy that I have found to be very successful with my clients.


1) Debra, C et al, Total and added sugar intakes, sugar types and cancer risk: Results from the prospective Nutri-Sante cohort. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2020; 112:1267-79.

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