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Study Links Soda to Increased Cancer Risk, Early Puberty in Girls

Jan 30, 2015

A study published in the journal Human Reproduction found that sugary, carbonated beverages were associated with early puberty and an increased risk of cancer in girls. This risk was observed in girls who drink just one-and-half cans a day, the authors found.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School analyzed data from 5,583 girls between the ages of nine and 14. On average, girls who drank more than 1.5 servings of sugary beverages daily had their first period 2.7 months earlier than those who drank two or fewer beverages a week. The speculative reasoning behind this observation is that sugar leads to higher levels of insulin in the body, which leads to higher concentrations of sex hormones typically associated with periods starting earlier.

"Our study adds to increasing concern about the widespread consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks among children and adolescents." said Associate Professor Karin Michels, according to The Telegraph. "The main concern is about childhood obesity, but our study suggests that age of first menstruation (menarche) occurred earlier, independently of body mass index, among girls with the highest consumption of drinks sweetened with added sugar."

Michels explained that an earlier period is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, The Telegraph reports. "A one-year decrease in age at menarche is estimated to increase the risk of breast cancer by five per cent... thus, a 2.7 month-decrease in age at menarche likely has a modest impact on breast cancer risk. Most importantly, the public health significance of sugar-sweetened beverages consumption at age at menarche, and possibly breast cancer, should not be overlooked, since, unlike most other predictors of menarche, sugar-sweetened beverages consumption can be modified."

Girls were 24 percent more likely to have their first period a month sooner if they drank more than 1.5 servings of sugar-sweetened drinks a day, the study found. Among girls who drank sugary beverages the most, the average age of the first period was 12.8 years. Girls who drank the least started at an average age of 13 years. None of the girls had started their period when joining the study. The effect was significant after adjusting for BMI.

"This research shows that it's even more important that children switch to water. We have recently linked early menstruation with childhood obesity, but this study shows that it's also associated with other disorders as well." Dr. Michels said.

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