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This One Type of Soda May Increase Liver Cancer Risk, New Study Suggests

Convinced zero sugar or calories make this soda safe? One familiar ingredient may prove you all wrong.

You'd do anything to protect your most vital organs and reduce your cancer risk, right? Your food choices, watching how much you drink, and plenty of other practices are proof. Well, a new study is challenging one pesky soda choice you might still be making. Just because it's no-calorie and even sugar-free might not mean you're in the clear.

A meta-analysis of 38 previous studies was published in the March issue of the Public Health Nutrition. The two researchers, Myung Seung-Kwon, M.D., Ph.D. of Korea's National Cancer Center, and Ph.D. student Alfred Jethro, were interested to see how soft drinks with artificial sweeteners are connected with the risk of gastrointestinal cancers—that is, cancer of the colon, stomach, esophagus, pancreas, or liver.

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Based on their analysis of the 38 studies, the researchers did not find an association between the overall risk of gastrointestinal cancer and soft drinks. However, when it came to a particular type of cancer, there was clearly a link—from the Korean Biomedical Review: "The sub-analysis on specific types of cancer showed that soda with artificial sweeteners raised the risk of liver cancer by 28 percent."

Seung-Kwon listed "artificial sweeteners" like "aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, neotame, and acesulfame" as compounds that are "used in soft drinks because they can reduce calories." Why? Because they're "hundreds to thousands of times sweeter than sugar."

A report we published in recent years explains how aspartame blocks an important gut enzyme that can prevent obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. This feature of the artificial sweetener, and others like it, is proof that zero-sugar sodas aren't great for your body, per se.

Even so, while the results of this study are enlightening—and even though there are a number of other health issues these artificial sweeteners have been associated with—the researchers for the current study conclude that there's not enough evidence to suggest that artificial sweeteners do indeed cause liver cancer.

Still, before you crack open that next can of diet of "zero" soda, you may want to read What's Worse: Diet Soda or Regular Soda? Or if you just reach for a soda when you need a fizzy lift, these 10 sparkling waters might be a better bet.

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Krissy Gasbarre
Krissy is a senior news editor at Eat This, Not That!, managing morning and weekend news related to nutrition, wellness, restaurants and groceries (with a focus on beverages), and more. Read more about Krissy
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