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Startling connection between soda and liver disease discovered

In a study spanning two decades, Harvard Medical School researchers have uncovered a significant link between the consumption of sugary sodas and an increased risk of liver cancer among postmenopausal women. 

With liver health now becoming a growing concern, understanding the risk factors is vital. This recent study provides us with important data to consider when evaluating our daily beverage choices.

Focus of the study

For the investigation, the researchers analyzed data for 98,786 American women between the ages of 50 and 79. 

These participants were initially enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative between 1993 and 1998 across 40 clinical centers in the United States. 

Following up on these women until March 1, 2020, the researchers aimed to scrutinize the long-term effects of their beverage consumption patterns.

Shocking results

The findings were startling: Women who consumed just one or more sugar-sweetened sodas daily faced an 85% higher likelihood of being diagnosed with liver cancer. This was in comparison to peers who consumed such drinks fewer than once a week. 

Furthermore, daily soda drinkers exhibited a 68% higher probability of succumbing to liver disease. However, it’s crucial to note that the overall death risk from the disease remained relatively low, with about 150 fatalities during the duration of the study.

High sugar content

While high sugar content is a recognized culprit for obesity – a known risk factor for cancer and liver disease – its effects don’t stop there. 

Large amounts of sugar, when consumed regularly, can lead to insulin resistance and eventually type 2 diabetes. These conditions are closely linked to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Artifical sweeteners

Interestingly, the study extended beyond just sugar-sweetened beverages. 

Given recent concerns around the potential carcinogenic properties of aspartame – a common artificial sweetener – the researchers also explored the correlation between liver cancer and artificially-sweetened beverages. The verdict? No significant correlation was found.

Study implications 

Dr. Pauline Emmett, a senior research fellow at the University of Bristol, weighed in on the study’s implications. “Although this study is observational so can’t give cause and effect, we know from a body of evidence that it is worth thinking twice before choosing to drink sugar-sweetened beverages every day.”

To better understand the data, the study results were presented in “person years,” which considers both the number of study participants and the time each person spent in the study. 

A soda per day

The risk metrics revealed that liver cancer rates stood at 18 per 100,000 person-years for women drinking one or more sugary sodas daily. By contrast, those consuming three or fewer such drinks a month faced a reduced rate of 10.3 per 100,000 person-years.

Additionally, rates of chronic liver disease deaths were 17.7 per 100,000 person-years for daily sugar-sweetened drink consumers. Those consuming them three or fewer times a month had a rate of 7.1 per 100,000 person-years.

“Compared with three or fewer sugar-sweetened beverages per month, consuming one or more sugar-sweetened beverages per day was associated with a significantly higher incidence of liver cancer and death from chronic liver diseases,” wrote the study authors. 

Questions remain 

While the researchers could not pinpoint the exact mechanism through which sugar-sweetened beverage consumption impacts liver health, they theorized potential pathways. These include obesity, notable spikes in blood glucose, and fat accumulation around the liver.

In conclusion, while many questions still remain unanswered, this study highlights the importance of mindful beverage consumption, reinforcing the idea that moderation is key.

The study is published in the journal Jama Network Open.

More about sugary soda

Sugary sodas have been the subject of much concern and research due to their links to various health problems. Here’s a summary of some of the main health concerns:


Sugary sodas are high in calories but provide very little nutritional value. Consuming these drinks can contribute to weight gain, particularly if they are not balanced with physical activity. The excess weight can then lead to obesity, which is a risk factor for various other health problems.

Type 2 diabetes

Consuming large amounts of sugar can lead to insulin resistance, a key factor in type 2 diabetes. Research has shown that regular consumption of sugary beverages is associated with a higher risk of developing this condition.

Heart disease

Some studies have found a correlation between the consumption of sugary drinks and heart disease. Excessive sugar intake can lead to inflammation, obesity, and high triglycerides, all of which are risk factors for heart disease.

Metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. The risk factors include high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels, all of which can be influenced by high sugar intake.

Liver disease

Fructose, a type of sugar found in many sugary drinks, can be metabolized in the liver, leading to fatty liver disease. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) has been linked to the consumption of excess fructose.

Dental problems

Sugar in sodas can lead to tooth decay and cavities. When sugar interacts with the bacteria in the mouth, it forms acid that can erode tooth enamel.

Bone health

Some research has suggested that the phosphoric acid in sodas might lead to a loss of calcium in the urine, contributing to the weakening of bones.


Though more psychological than physical, sugary sodas can create cravings and reinforce addictive behavior patterns due to their high sugar content.

Kidney issues

Some studies have indicated that the consumption of sugary sodas might be associated with kidney issues, including chronic kidney disease.

Potential cancer risk

A few studies have looked into the association between sugary drinks and cancer, but the results are inconclusive. More research is needed to determine whether there’s a direct link.

Negative impact on diet

Regular consumption of sugary drinks may lead to a decrease in the intake of more nutritious beverages and foods. This can contribute to overall poor diet quality.

Gastrointestinal issues

For some, the consumption of sugary sodas may contribute to gastrointestinal issues, such as acid reflux or increased gastric pressure.

The health concerns related to sugary sodas have led to initiatives and policies aimed at reducing their consumption. This includes educational campaigns, taxes on sugary beverages, and efforts to restrict their sale and advertising, particularly to children.

It’s important to note that moderate consumption of sugary drinks is generally considered less problematic. However, due to the health risks associated with regular or excessive consumption, many healthcare professionals recommend limiting or avoiding them altogether, opting instead for water, herbal teas, or other unsweetened beverages.


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