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Current dietary guidelines for people living in the United States recommend limiting calories from sugar intake to less than 10 percent of total daily calories. Despite these recommendations, evidence indicates that some people living in the United States consume as much as 23 percent of their daily calories in the form of added sugars. Findings from a recent study suggest that high dietary sugar intake increases a person’s risk for cancer.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells preferentially rely on glycolysis (the breakdown of sugar) to produce energy. This altered metabolism, widely recognized as a hallmark of cancer, promotes cell proliferation and cancer metastasis.

The authors of the study drew on data from more than 101,000 participants enrolled in NutriNet-Santé, an ongoing observational cohort study based in France. Participants completed online 24-hour dietary records detailing their usual consumption of more than 3,500 food and beverage items. The authors of the study performed statistical analyses to identify associations between sugar intake and cancer risk, taking into account known risk factors, such as socioeconomic status, body size, lifestyle, medical history, and nutritional factors.

They found that higher dietary sugar intake increased the overall risk of developing cancer 17 percent. The risk of breast cancer increased 50 percent with high sugar intake. These findings suggest that reducing dietary sugar intake decreases a person’s risk of developing cancer and highlight the importance of policies and interventions to reduce intake.

The effects of sugar extend to longevity, as well. In fact, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with dramatically accelerated telomere shortening – equivalent to as much as five years of a person’s life. Watch this clip in which Dr. Elissa Epel discusses the harmful effects of what she calls a “toxic lifestyle,” one that includes the consumption of sugary drinks.

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