Cancer link to diet soda disputed

For some devotees, nirvana can be found in a can of diet soda.

“In the afternoons, a cold Diet Coke just makes me feel better,” said Samantha Wilson ’07, one of millions of Americans who consume a combined 13.15 billion gallons of carbonated beverages each year.

But in recent years, many have been discouraged from consuming the fizzy drinks by mounting scientific evidence of health risks associated with drinking soda. A recently released study from the Yale School of Medicine, though, could ease some of these fears.

Based on data collected by Yale researchers and other institutions, a previously established link between soda consumption and esophageal adenocarcinoma, a cancer of the esophagus, may be nonexistent.

Susan Mayne, a professor of epidemiology and public health and the lead researcher of the study, said her findings indicate that individuals with esophageal adenocarcinoma were less likely to consume soft drinks, especially diet soft drinks, than a control group. The study, published in the Jan. 4 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, refuted an earlier paper that proposed the 350 percent increase in incidence of esophageal cancer since the 1970s was due to Americans’ increased consumption of carbonated beverages, said Harvey Risch, a professor of epidemiology and public health and one of the study’s authors.

Risch said the researchers in the previous study, which found a correlation between soda and cancer, “inserted cause and effect,” inferring that because the subjects drank soda and had cancer there was a link between the two.

“They created some ideas that they thought might be biologically plausible,” Risch said.

Mayne said that the authors of the previous paper suggested that more investigations were needed before drawing the conclusion that soft drinks contribute to the development of esophageal cancer.

“The problem was that the hypothesis was picked up by the media and widely disseminated without ever being tested,” Mayne said.

Yale researchers already happened to have a bank of interviews of cancer patients asking about their dietary habits, including soda consumption.

“Because we have this study that we’ve done, and we have the data available, we decided we should look at our data and see whether it supported that hypothesis,” said Robert Dubrow, a professor of epidemiology and public health who co-authored the study.

Researchers are careful to point out the danger in assuming that drinking diet soda will prevent cancer.

“We don’t want to over-interpret the protective finding,” Mayne said. “Rather, we just want to emphasize that we see no evidence that soft drinks increase the risk of these cancers.”

Studies have shown that carbonated beverages are accompanied by a host of other health problems, including obesity and tooth decay.

“When people consume as much of a substance as Americans consume soft drinks, many possible health consequences may occur,” said Kelly Bronwell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity in an e-mail. “Of greater concern are the links between soft drink intake, poor diet and obesity, particularly in children.”

In light of these health concerns, the prevalence of soda in schools has become an issue of national concern, and many elementary, middle and high schools have banished soft drinks in favor of juice and water. But at Yale, with Durfee’s, the dining halls and vending machines around every corner, a soda fix is never far off. In the face of this soda saturation, some said the allure of diet soft drinks is too strong to be overshadowed by warnings about their adverse health affects.

“It’s a habit I’ve acquired,” said Adele Sweetnam ’06. “When I’m at the library, I get a Diet Coke instead of coffee for the caffeine, and Machine City doesn’t help.”

Even researchers said they indulge in a diet soda every once in a while in spite of the risks.

“I really like Diet Coke, but I definitely don’t go overboard,” Dubrow said.

Comments