New research is linking sugary beverages and bowel cancer, so watch your sports drink intake

·3-min read
Photo credit: Chris Hinkle
Photo credit: Chris Hinkle
  • Drinking two or more sugar-sweetened beverages (like sports drinks) per day may up your risk of developing bowel cancer before age 50, new research shows.

  • This is likely due to the way sugar-sweetened drinks can cause a rapid rise in blood glucose and insulin secretion, which causes inflammation and obesity—both associated with a higher risk of bowel cancer.

  • When you are on a run or doing other exercise, a sports drink can be beneficial if your activity is at moderate-to-high intensity and lasts for more than an hour. Otherwise, it’s best to hydrate with water.

Maybe you’re not a fan of plain water—we get it!—so you’ve created a mix of beverages to drink both on runs and in everyday life. That could be soda, energy drinks, and fruit juices, in addition to sports drinks. While that might solve your taste issue, a recent study in the journal Gut suggests you may want to rethink your drink.

Researchers looked at data provided by just over 95,000 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study II, an ongoing study of women that began in 1989 and tracks daily habits and health outcomes.

They found that over a 24-year period, those with a higher intake of sugar-sweetened drinks were at higher risk of developing bowel cancer before age 50. Women who drank two or more per day were about twice as likely to be diagnosed with this type of cancer, and each daily serving was associated with a 16 per cent higher risk.

The reason for this is likely due to the way sugar-sweetened drinks can cause a rapid rise in blood glucose and insulin secretion, causing inflammation and obesity, which are both associated with a higher risk of bowel cancer development.

Although artificial sweeteners have their downsides in other research—like this review, which found negative side effects in some animal and human studies—the researchers in the current study discovered that substituting sugar-sweetened drinks with artificially sweetened ones were beneficial. In those cases, there was a 17 to 36 per cent lower risk of a bowel cancer diagnosis before age 50.

What does this mean in terms of daily consumption? First, that when you aren’t exercising, water tends to be a better option, according to dietitian Kelsey Pezzuti, R.D., who specialises in sports nutrition. She told Bicycling that laying off the sports drinks as a regular beverage can help you control the amount of sugar you’re consuming overall.

When you are on a run or doing other exercise, a sports drink can be beneficial if your activity is at moderate-to-high intensity and lasts for more than an hour. That’s because their combination of fluid, electrolytes, and carbs has been shown to help many people power through intense workouts with sustained energy compared to plain water.

If that run is just an easy 30 minutes, though? Not so much.

'These drinks are ideal for athletes training several hours per day, such as marathon runners or triathletes,' said Pezzuti. 'If your workout lasts less than an hour, chances are slim that you actually need a sports drink.'

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