A new study shows that carbonated beverages don’t increase the risk of developing cancer of the esophagus.
In fact, people who drank diet soda are actually less likely to develop a particular type of esophageal cancer, adenocarcinoma, Dr. Susan T. Mayne of the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven and colleagues found.
“We don’t want to go out and promote soft drink use as a way to prevent this cancer,” Mayne said in an interview with Reuters Health. Instead, she explained, it’s likely that heavy diet soda consumption is a stand-in for healthy habits or traits that are protective against the disease.
Rates of esophageal adenocarcinoma have more than tripled since the 1970s, and researchers from India suggested in 2004 that the simultaneous sharp rise in carbonated soda consumption could be the cause. Given that carbonated beverages can cause heartburn, a major risk factor for esophageal adenocarcinoma, and are also acidic, such a link is biologically plausible, Mayne and her team note in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
To investigate, the researchers studies 1,095 people with different types of esophageal and stomach cancer and compared them with 687 matched healthy “control” subjects.
Overall, the team found, drinking soda slightly reduced esophageal adenocarcinoma risk. When they separated out the effects of diet and non-diet soda, Mayne and her team found people who drank diet soda had a 53 percent lower risk of the cancer than those who drank the least. Sugared soda had no effect.
Obesity, gastric acid reflux disease, cigarette smoking and low fruit and vegetable consumption are now known to be the chief risk factors for esophageal cancer, Mayne and her colleagues point out, and all are controllable.
While the possibility that diet soda itself could be protective can’t be ruled out, Mayne noted, excessive consumption carries its own health risks - for example damaging tooth enamel. People hoping to avoid esophageal adenocarcinoma shouldn’t start chugging diet pop, but should instead focus on controlling the well-established risk factors for the disease, she advised. “We don’t want to mislead people into thinking diet soft drinks are the way to go,”
SOURCE: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, January 4, 2005.
Revision date: June 18, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.