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August 09, 2023

Women who consume sugary drinks every day are at higher risk for liver cancer, study finds

Researchers found higher rates of fatal liver disease among regular drinkers of soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages

Illness Liver Disease
Sugary drinks liver disease Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Researchers found that older women who consumed one or more sugar-sweetened beverage each day had higher rates of liver cancer and death from chronic liver disease than their peers who drank up to three SSBs per month.

A daily soda habit may increase a woman's chance of developing deadly liver disease, according to new research.

The study examined the rates of liver disease among 98,786 women ages 50 to 79, looking for links between liver problems and the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages — a category that generally includes regular soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, flavored waters and fruit drinks that are not 100% juice. The researchers found higher rates of liver cancer and death from chronic liver disease among those who drank at least one SSB per day, compared to those who consumed no more than three each month.

Researchers did not observe increased rates of liver cancer or fatal liver disease in women who consumed artificially-sweetened beverages, like diet sodas, each day. The participants in the study were monitored over a 20-year period at clinical centers across the U.S. 

The study, published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, joins a growing body of research linking high consumption of SSBs to liver disease. 

A 2018 meta-analysis found that higher intake of sugary drinks was "significantly associated" with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a catch-all term for conditions in which excessive fat is stored in liver cells of people who consume little to no alcohol. While NAFLD presents few symptoms, over time, it can develop into more aggressive forms of fatty liver disease, and even lead to cirrhosis or liver failure.

An even larger meta-analysis from 2019 found increased risk of NAFLD among all categories of SSB consumption. Those who drank the lowest amount – less than 1 cup per week – still increased their odds of developing the disease by 14%, while those who drank 1-6 cups per week increased their risk by 26%. Those in the highest category – 7 or more cups per week – increased their chances by 53%.

Researchers are increasingly sounding the alarm on the link between liver disease and sugary drinks due to their enduring popularity. SSBs are the primary source of added sugars in American diets, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, beating out desserts, candy and sweetened coffee and tea. Previous CDC data suggests 63% of Americans consume these sugary drinks daily.

In addition to liver disease, frequent consumption of SSBs is associated with type 2 diabetes, heart and kidney disease and gout.

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