High Sugar Intake May Lead to Premature Aging in Childhood Cancer Survivors

Childhood cancer survivors who had high daily sugar intake — especially when it came to sweetened beverages — had an increased risk of premature aging-related health complications, according to recent research.

Childhood cancer survivors who consumed high amounts of sugar each day were more likely than survivors who consumed less sugar to develop aging-related health conditions, according to recent research presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Special Conference: Aging and Cancer.

As more lifesaving therapies emerge for children with cancer, it is important to look at the long-term effects of treatments, as well as modifiable factors for health, such as sugar consumption, study author Tuo Lan, a postdoctoral research associate at Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis, Missouri, emphasized.

“Childhood cancer survivors (are) living longer than (ever) before,” Lan said in an interview with CURE®. “However, they (experience) premature aging and conditions at a younger age compared to their peers without cancer (histories).”

Lan and colleagues analyzed data from 3,322 childhood cancer survivors from the St. Jude Lifetime Cohort, which monitors pediatric patients through adulthood, including their reported daily intake of total sugar, added sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages.

The researchers then scored patients based on the presence of 45 aging-related health conditions, such as heart attack, stroke and arthritis. For every 25 grams of sugar consumed daily, those initially deemed to be in the intermediate-risk group had a 24% increased risk of premature aging, while those in the high-risk group saw a 30% increased risk.

“Sugar intake is involved in a lot of physiological mechanisms that can cause premature aging, like insulin resistance, inflammation… all of this can cause premature aging, especially among childhood cancer survivors,” Lan said.

In particular, high-risk survivors who drank two or more sugar-sweetened beverages (such as soda) each day were 6.71 times more likely to experience premature aging than those who consumed one or fewer sugary beverages each week.

READ MORE: Sugar-Filled Drinks Could Be Cause for Alarm After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Lan acknowledged that decreasing sugar intake could be difficult for childhood cancer survivors — especially if, when going through treatment, their family would give them a sweet treat like candy or chocolate after each therapy.

“I know it’s easy to say but hard to do,” she said. “But health interventions should really target cancer survivors to reduce sugar intake … (Survivors) can start by drinking their coffee with half and half instead of sugar and quitting soda. Soda is really bad.”

For parents whose children are currently undergoing cancer therapy, Lan said it is an important time to establish healthy habits that promote long-term health.

“Give them healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables, instead of candies,” Lan recommended. “Although cancer treatment is hard for children, (giving them an excess of sweets) just isn’t going to help them in the long-run.”

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