Consumption of sweet products has increased around the world in recent decades. Their impact on obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease has been the subject of numerous studies and is now well established. But concerning cancer, the implication of sugar has so far not been established in due form and the scientific authorities do not therefore consider it yet as a risk factor as such. However, there are many hypotheses that could explain its mode of action: it could in particular act by promoting obesity or by causing inflammatory mechanisms chronic and insulin resistance.
To respond to this lack of information, a team of researchers in nutritional epidemiology looked at the consumption of sugars in the cohort formed in as part of the Nutrinet-Santé study. This is a prospective cohort which includes more than 100,000 people who have agreed to be followed for several years and to provide information on their health and their nutritional “behaviors”. Each year, the “Nutrinauts” who agreed to join this cohort answer five different questionnaires (diet, health, lifestyle, anthropometry, physical activity), the responses of which constitute the basic data essential to the study.
All types of sugar scrutinized
In this study relayed by the ARC Foundation for Research on Cancer, the researchers looked at the overall consumption of sugars, added or not. They were interested in all cancers, but carried out a specific investigation to breast and prostate cancer, the most frequent in women and men. Of results published in 2019 by this same team with participants from the cohort had made it possible to associate the consumption of sugary drinks with an increased risk of breast cancer. Thus, a 100mL increase in the average daily consumption of sugary drinks was associated with an approximately 18% increase in cancer risk.
This time scientists have documented the precise origin sugars consumed in the diet (sweets, fruits, drinks, dairy products, dairy deserts, breakfast cereals, cookies and pastries, etc.) before distinguishing their nature (fructose, glucose, sucrose, etc.). After a median follow-up of nearly six years and the occurrence of more than 2,500 breast cancer cases in the cohort, the results are clear: overall sugar consumption is associated with an increased risk of cancer. An observation which, according to the researchers, “would be mainly due to breast cancer, the other locations apparently being little or not affected by the consumption of sugars.”
Sugar, “preventable risk factor for cancer”
An analysis of the data revealed that the risk was more specifically related to added sugars, to the free sugars, at sucrose, to the sugars in beverages or dairy products. In addition, the effects on breast cancer risk were slightly greater in premenopausal women. The authors conclude that “the consumption of sugar must now be considered as a preventable risk factor for cancer, data that the authorities can integrate into a political reflection on the taxation of sugar and other preventive health measures. »Note that since 2015, WHO recommends rbring the intake of free sugars to less than 10% of the total energy intake.
The National Cancer Institute speaks of “primary prevention” through food. “Research carried out in recent years has made it possible to identify dietary factors that may be involved in the development of certain cancers. If there are no anticancer foods, some can reduce the risk of the onset of the disease, or on the contrary increase it, ”he says. The factors for which the links with certain cancers are shown are mainly the consumption of alcoholic beverages, overweight and obesity and excess red meats or cold cuts. Conversely, the latter recommends the consumption of foods of plant origin and rich in fiber.