How sick do we have to get?

By February 9, 2010Uncategorized

A study published this week says that we are 87 percent more likely to contract pancreatic cancer if we have two cans of soft drink a week (about 10 grams of sugar a day on average). But the current Australian healthy eating guidelines say it’s perfectly fine to slurp up more than ten times that much sugar. Is there a problem here?

In the study, 60,524 Singapore Chinese were followed for 14 years (not literally, they were surveyed on their dietary habits). Their names were cross-matched with health records. Those that drank two or more soft drinks a week were much more likely to be among the 140 that had contracted pancreatic cancer in the intervening years.

Clearly the study doesn’t prove anything. You could drive a truck through it with questions like “What else did they eat?” “Did they smoke as well?” and so on. But it’s not the only recent study coming up with similar results.

A 2006 study published by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden also decided soft drinkers were in significant jeopardy, and had warnings for anyone eating sugar at all. The Swedish study began in 1997 when scientists ran a dietary survey of almost 80,000 healthy people, who were subsequently monitored until June 2005. According to the cancer registry, 131 people from this group had developed cancer of the pancreas.

The researchers were able to demonstrate that the risk of developing pancreatic cancer was directly related to the amount of sugar in the diet. The people who said that they drank soft drinks twice a day or more were 90 per cent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those who never drank them.

It won’t shock you to discover soft drinks are not health food, but the study went on to report that people who added sugar to food or drinks (like tea and coffee) at least five times a day were at 70 per cent greater risk than those who did not. People who ate fruit jams at least once a day also ran a higher risk – they developed the disease 50 per cent more often than those who never ate them.

As far as our bodies are concerned, a soft drink is a combination of just three things, water, glucose and fructose (the two halves of sugar). If water or glucose is the problem then we should all give up now. Water is critical to survival (if you like living more than three days) and if we were cars then glucose would be our petrol. A 2002 a study tried to tease out which food element had the greatest association with pancreatic cancer, and fructose got first prize.

The study conducted by the US National Cancer Institute identified 180 cases of pancreatic cancer from among 88,802 women who were monitored for 18 years as part of the Nurses’ Health Study. Women who were overweight and sedentary and had a high fructose intake were shown to have a 317 percent greater chance of developing pancreatic cancer.

Big Sugar’s response to the most recent study was as predictable as death and taxes. Richard Adamson, a consultant to the American Beverage Association (ABA) said in a statement “… soft drinks do not cause cancer … You can be a healthy person and enjoy soft drinks. The key to a healthy lifestyle is balance — eating a variety of foods and beverages in moderation along with getting regular physical activity.”

Well, he would say that wouldn’t he. You canna blame a man for trying (it on). After all, the ABA is in the business of selling soft drinks. The fact that he could have been reading from the current Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults is of much more concern.

The Australian guidelines say “Consume only moderate amounts of sugars and foods containing added sugars.” They go on to explain that what that means is up to 20 percent of energy intake. For an adult male eating a 2,200 calorie diet, that is 110 grams of sugar (about three cans of soft drink) a day.

In Australia, pancreatic cancer is the fifth most lethal cancer for both men and women. Every year it kills almost twice as many Australians as Melanoma and the numbers are steadily increasing. It is also the least treatable cancer. More than 95 percent of sufferers are dead within five years of diagnosis (compared with just 7 percent for Melanoma).

None of the studies on sugar and pancreatic cancer are conclusive on their own. But taken together, there is cause for serious concern. Sugar consumption is clearly implicated in a disease which (every year) kills almost one and a half times the number of Australians as die on the nation’s highways. And yet the people we rely on for nutrition advice tell us that it’s perfectly fine to consume sugar at ten times the level which was a problem in the most recent study.

It’s time to wake up, smell the (unsweetened) coffee and act on sugar before we sentence even more Australians to death by pancreatic cancer.

Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • raji007 says:

    hii, thanks for giving the information and very useful..

    pancreatic cancer prognosis

  • Joal says:

    Australian healthy eating guidelines allow 20 cans of soft drink per week? Really?

    Or are you comparing two cans of soft drink (which is only a part of overall sugar consumption) with total sugar consumption, which is a total furphy?

    This was interesting: “There was no statistically significant association between juice consumption and risk of pancreatic cancer.” I’m sure you meant to add this to your article. Why would that be?

  • Readers of David Gillespie’s blogs be interested to know that it is now more than two weeks since I first attempted to get David to reply to a series of questions in a comment about his blog entry titled ‘Attack of the Chocolatier’.

    My questions cut to the core of David’s treatment (or rather mistreatment) of the science that he claims underpins his book ‘Sweet Poison’. David hasn’t answered any of my questions.

    By refusing (or perhaps more appropriately not being able) to answer those questions, David is tacitly admitting that the science behind his book ‘Sweet Poison’ is fatally flawed.

    As I have demonstrated in other comments on the ‘Attack of the Chocolatier’ and in my Ockham’s Razor program (ABC Radio National) of 10 Jan 10, David Gillespie is not a reliable source of information on the health effects of fructose.

    The questions are:

    (i) In light of the evidence provided by Rosemary Stanton that there has either been no increase or a slight decline in food intake in the last 30 years (see my comment sent on January 29, 2010 at 8:48 PM), do you still believe that food intake has increased by 30% in Australia in the last three decades?

    (ii) Taking into account your claim that average Australian intake of fructose is about two-thirds the average intake in the US, and that the US intake accounts for 9-10% of total energy intake (references provided in my comment sent on January 29, 2010 at 10:10 PM) do you still claim that almost 20% of our energy intake is now derived from fructose?

    (iii) Noting that the authors of the 1985 paper by Reiser et al. [Am J Clin Nutr. 1985 Aug;42(2):242-51] refer (more than once) to a ‘… lack of relationship between the onset of the abnormalities and the type of dietary carbohydrate’, do you still claim that fructose consumption was the cause of severe heart conditions in four participants in that study?

    (iv) Noting that at least 19 human fructose-feeding studies were conducted after 1985 (references provided in my comment of January 30, 2010 at 6:02 PM) do you still claim that no further human studies were conducted following that date?

    (v) Noting that the World Health Organisation recommends that the maximum safe intake of added sugars is 10% of total energy (or rather just short of 10%); that the NHMRC dietary guideline is to ‘consume only moderate levels of sugars and foods containing added sugars’; that the American Heart Association sets safe upper levels of intake of 35 g of added sugar for men and 25 g for women, and that 12 of the 19 references to human studies conducted in the period 1985-2007 reported positive or, at worst, neutral effects attributable to fructose, do you still believe that added fructose is a poison in the diet at any dose?

    (vi) Given that the NHMRC in Australia and ACSM in the US (and other national health authorities) recognise the value of physical activity in weight control, do you still believe that physical activity has no role to play in weight control?

    (vii) Noting that the conclusion of the most recent meta-analysis (in the December 26 edition of Clinical Nutrition) concludes that ‘There is no support from the human literature for the hypothesis that sucrose may be physically addictive …’, do you still insist that fructose—the relevant component of sucrose in this context—is addictive in humans?

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