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Carbonated Drinks May Increase Esophageal Cancer Risk for GERD Sufferers

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Updated June 15, 2014

Researchers at Tata Memorial Hospital in India found a strong correlation between the rise in per capita consumption of carbonated soft drinks in the past 20 years and the increasing rates of esophageal cancer in the United States. Consumption of carbonated soft drinks rose by more than 450 percent, from 10.8 gallons per per in 1946 to 49.2 gallons per year in 2000. At the same time, during the last 25 years, rates of esophageal cancer have increased more than 570 percent among American white males.

Researchers have found published data for a strong biological basis to explain the increased duration of esophageal exposure to acid as the consumption of carbonated soft drinks increases. These carbonated soft drinks are related to gastric distension, which can trigger reflux. Studies show the consumption of one can of soda a day corresponds to 53.5 minutes of elevated acid levels in the stomach. When this is figured on an annual basis, that's about 53 gallons of soda per year, with 32,100 more minutes of elevated acid reflux per year, and the esophagus' exposure to it.

Mohandas Mallath, head of the digestive diseases department at Tata Memorial Hospital, along with colleagues, found a "very significant correlation" between the rise in consumption and esophageal cancer globally.

Mallath further stated: "The surprisingly strong correlation demonstrates the impact of diet patterns on health trends."

Lee Kaplan, Massachusetts General Hospital, said this correlation can't be taken as a causal link at this stage. He is further quoted: "This is only a correlation and doesn't in any way indicate causality," Kaplan told New Scientist. "There are a whole variety of things that occur in modern society. Refrigerators are associated with cancer - but they don't cause it."

Drinking a carbonated soda seems harmless enough, so why the worry about the risk of esophageal cancer?

There is a biological link between soft drink consumption and increased gastric pressure, which can result in increased reflux. And recurring acid reflux is the most important risk factor for esophageal adenocarcinoma.

Mallath explains: "If you drink a quarter of a litre of water, your stomach distends by a quarter of a litre, but if it's a carbonated drink, your stomach may distend to maybe half a litre. This causes reflux - the acid of the stomach is thrown back into the food pipe."

For this GERD sufferer, this is definitely food for thought. Though a recent upper Upper Endoscopy examine showed no damage to my esophagus, I feel it's wise to take precautions. As I have with the rest of my diet, I try to avoid those foods and beverages that can increase my risk of acid reflux, and carbonated beverages are only a small part of my daily fluid intake. While further study will be needed to show whether there is a definite link between drinking carbonated soda and increased risk of esophageal cancer, it may be better err on side of caution until further information is available.

Other Complications of GERD (Acid Reflux Disease)
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