Consuming artificially sweetened beverages instead of drinks loaded with sugar may significantly reduce the risk of colon cancer recurrence and death, according to new research.
Despite concerns about the health impact of artificial sweeteners, a new study published in PLOS ONE suggests that swapping out sugar as a sweetener and instead using artificial alternatives may be beneficial for patients with stage 3 colon cancer.
The researchers defined artificially sweetened beverages as caffeinated colas, caffeine-free colas, and other carbonated beverages, such as diet ginger ale.
Previous research has demonstrated increased colon cancer recurrence and mortality in states of excess energy balance, which can be caused by factors such as sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, increased dietary glycemic load, and increased intake of sugar-sweetened drinks. For the current study, researchers at Yale Cancer Center aimed to determine the relationship between artificially sweetened beverages and disease recurrence and death.
In an analysis of 1018 patients with colon cancer, the researchers found that study participants who drank 1 or more 12-ounce serving of artificially sweetened beverages per day experienced a 46% improvement in the risk of cancer recurrence or death compared with those who did not drink these beverages. In a second analysis, they found that half of the benefit was due to substituting artificially sweetened beverages for a beverage sweetened with sugar.
“While the association between colon cancer recurrence and death was somewhat stronger than we suspected, the finding fits in with all that we know about colon cancer risk in general,” study author Charles S. Fuchs, MD, director of Yale Cancer Center, said in a press release.
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Previous studies that analyzed the association of various foods and drinks with colon cancer recurrence and death followed patients with stage 3 colon cancer who were enrolled in a National Cancer Institute-supported clinical trial testing 2 different forms of postsurgical chemotherapy. For these studies, participants completed comprehensive nutrition questionnaires probing their consumption of more than 130 different foods and drinks over the span of many months.
The researchers tracked cancer recurrence and death rates for approximately 7 years. They determined that the 2 chemotherapy regimens offered equal benefits, but also found associations between specific food and drinks and colon cancer risk and death. In 1 study, patients who drank coffee had a substantially reduced risk of cancer recurrence and death, and a similar benefit was found in patients who ate tree nuts.
However, there are still concerns about the negative impacts of artificial sweeteners.
“Concerns that artificial sweeteners may increase the incidence of obesity, diabetes, and cancer have been raised, but studies on issues such as weight gain and diabetes have been very mixed, and, regarding cancer, epidemiologic studies in humans have not demonstrated such relationships,” Dr Fuchs added.
The findings indicate that higher artificially sweetened beverage consumption may significantly reduce colon cancer recurrence and death, but more studies are needed to confirm the association, the researchers concluded.
Guercio BJ, Zhang S, Niedzwiecki D, et al. Associations of artificially sweetened beverage intake with disease recurrence and mortality in stage 3 colon cancer: Results from CALGB 89803 (Alliance). PLOS ONE. 2018. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0199244
Low- or no-calorie soft drinks linked to improved outcomes in colon cancer [news release]. Yale’s website. https://news.yale.edu/2018/07/19/low-or-no-calorie-soft-drinks-linked-improved-outcomes-colon-cancer. Accessed July 20, 2018.