Diet High in Sugar May Accelerate Aging in Survivors of Childhood Cancer

Sugar…may not always be sweet. Survivors of childhood cancer have a risk of accelerated aging with every 25 grams of sugar consumed, according to researchers.

High sugar consumption may increase age-related health conditions in survivors of childhood cancer, explained study authors at the AACR Special Conference: Aging and Cancer. Specifically, for every 25 grams of sugar consumed daily, risk of premature aging was shown to increase by as much as 30% in survivors of childhood cancer.

Additionally, among patients with an intermediate-risk of premature aging, sugar-sweetened beverages can increase their risk by 54%.

“Everyone should limit their sugar intake. Considering cancer survivors are more vulnerable, they should especially limit their sugar intake,” said Tuo Lan, PhD, a postdoctoral research associate at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center, in the press release.

Lan noted that childhood cancer survivors are an especially vulnerable population to potential increased rates of aging, although their life span has been significantly extended due to medical advancements in the field.

“Childhood cancer used to be a fatal disease, but with recent advances in treatment, childhood cancer survivors live much longer than they used to,” said senior study author Yikyung Park, ScD, an associate professor of surgery at the Siteman Cancer Center, in a press release.

Sugar consumption aside, survivors of childhood cancer may experience more age-related health conditions than non-cancer patients—this may be due, in part, to exposure to chemotherapy and radiation. Experiencing this treatment during one’s youth can damage growing tissue and cause future health problems to occur at a younger age.

Additionally, consuming excessive sugar can lead to obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes—further, high consumption of sugar has been shown to promote inflammation and accelerate aging mechanisms, and even mortality.

Researchers at the Siteman Cancer Center assessed the premature aging risk in survivors of childhood cancer from sugar, and how this risk compares to the general population. Overall, researchers identified 3322 survivors of childhood cancer from the St. Jude Lifetime Cohort and collected data on the adult patients’ daily sugar intake (total, added, and sugar-sweetened beverages) based on their responses to a questionnaire; using the Deficit Accumulation Index (DAI), the team then assessed the patients’ risk of premature aging. A DAI of less than 0.2 was considered low-risk, 0.2-0.34 was intermediate-risk, and high-risk was 0.35 or greater.

The data showed that every 25 grams of added sugar in a patient’s diet increased risk of premature aging for intermediate-risk survivors by 19% and by 23% in high-risk patients. Additionally, having 2 to 3 sugar-sweetened drinks increased risk of premature aging 6.71-fold in high-risk patients compared to those who drank less than 1 each week.

The study includes limitations, the most evident being the cross-sectional style of analysis. The nature of this analysis may not explain whether sugar increases premature risk of aging in childhood cancer survivors, or whether a premature risk of aging impacts sugar consumption and its ill effects.

“Cutting down sugar is not always easy,” Park said in the press release. “We need to find a way to help cancer survivors maintain healthier dietary habits to support their overall health.”

Reference

American Association for Cancer Research. High Sugar Consumption Linked to Increased Risk of Premature Aging in Childhood Cancer Survivors. News Release. November 17, 2022. Accessed on November 17, 2022.