The Grapevine

Can Diet Soda Reduce Risk Of Colon Cancer Recurrence?

Low-calorie soft drinks were linked to a reduced risk of colon cancer recurrence in a new research from the Yale Cancer Center. However, health experts are not exactly convinced by the purported relationship.

The findings of the new study were published in the journal The Public Library of Science One (PLOS ONE) on July 19. Senior author Dr. Charles S. Fuchs said the finding was an exciting one despite the "checkered reputation," of artificially sweetened drinks.

"We wanted to ask the question if, after cancer has developed and advanced, would a change in lifestyle — drinking artificially sweetened beverages — change the outcome of the cancer post-surgery?" he said.

The team of researchers conducted an analysis of more than 1,000 patients of colon cancer for the study. They provided detailed answers about their dietary habits, including the types of beverages they would consume. For seven years, potential cancer recurrence, as well as deaths, were recorded by the researchers.

Participants who drank one or more 12-ounce servings of artificially sweetened beverages per day saw that their risk of cancer recurrence or death improved by 46 percent compared to those did not. The drinks that counted towards the study included caffeinated colas, caffeine-free colas, and other carbonated beverages like diet ginger ale.

"We now find that, in terms of colon cancer recurrence and survival, use of artificially sweetened drinks is not a health risk, but is, in this study, a healthier choice," Fuchs said.

Unsurprisingly, the finding is a rather controversial one given the well-known health risks of soda and artificial sweeteners. Some health experts have criticized the tone of exaggeration used in the news release, suggesting cause-and-effect despite the study being an observational one.

For example, in the video accompanying the press release, Fuchs states: "Do I think that (artificial sweeteners like) Nutrasweet or Stevia actually have an anti-cancer effect? I do not." 

However, this was not mentioned in the written news release. "I would not pay much attention to this observational study with many design flaws," said Elena Ivanina, a gastroenterologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City.

Since the patients were asked to recall their food and beverage intake, there is a high risk that the self-reported study is inaccurate. Another flaw she noted was the lack of adjustment for other colon cancer risk factors such as smoking or red meat consumption.

It should also be considered that the frequent consumption of artificial sweeteners could increase the risk of obesity and other risk factors for various types of cancers.

Dr. David Bernstein, a gastroenterologist at Northwell Health in New York, also cautioned that further research is required. "This is the first of its kind to report such results and therefore the excitement behind it must be also be accompanied by skepticism until the results can be replicated," he said.