Consumption of carbonated beverages is fast becoming known in circles of health advocates as America’s unacknowledged “drinking problem.” There’s a long list of reasons why you shouldn’t indulge in the bubbly, and it’s about to get one reason longer, I’m afraid.
A group of doctors in India who specialize in digestive disorders delivered a disturbing report at a recent conference on digestive disorders. Apparently, the U.S. consumption of carbonated beverages shot up 450 percent from 1974 to 2000, and during the same period, esophageal (throat) cancer rose by 570 percent among white American males. They concluded that the increase in both of these figures is related.
To be fair, not all experts agree with this conclusion and they feel that this particular study doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny. Not all factors that could have accounted for the increased incidence of throat cancer were included in the study, and a direct correlation was not found, merely an implied correlation. Personally, though, I think we’re splitting hairs. Here’s why…
Dr. Wright is quite clear about the connection between sugar and cancer — cancer feeds on sugar. And there’s quite a bit of research that backs up this belief. Eliminating refined sugar from your diet is almost always the first step towards improved health that Dr. Wright advises for his patients. Sugar — and the havoc it wreaks on your ability to regulate insulin — is a proven and consistent cause behind numerous maladies, such as obesity and related disorders that go along with the extra pounds. And most soda contains exorbitant amounts of sugar, with one can often containing more than the entire allotment of sugar recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (You can’t get off the hook with the diet sodas either since most contain aspartame — which is even worse for your health than sugar. So either way, we’ve got a health challenge on our hands).
But the correlation doesn’t end there. Soda is already known to exacerbate gastroesophageal reflux disease, better known as GERD, which can be clearly linked to esophageal cancer. The culprit appears to be the many acids that make up soda, such as phosphoric, citric, acetic, fumaric, and gluconic acids to name a few. The report stated that the average soda drinker consumes over 32,000 additional minutes of acid exposure a year. Further, other countries that have experienced a similar rise in soda consumption also have a rising number of cases of this esophageal cancer. It’s pretty compelling data.
Some gastroenterologists feel that there is no need to condemn an entire industry for a cancer with just 15,000 cases in this country each year, which accounts for only a small fraction of the more than 1.3 million cancer cases diagnosed each year. I’m not so sure. Remember, the soft drink makers have young people in their marketing crosshairs. Fifty-six percent of 8-year-olds down soft drinks daily, and a full third of teenage boys drink at least three cans of soda a day. What’s more troubling is that 60 percent of all public and private middle schools sell soda — and some even give it away with a school lunch purchase.
Add up the numbers and multiply them by, say, the next 10-20 years, and if this study is true, we have a problem on our hands. Or in our throats, to be more specific. Since soda doesn’t have much in the way of redeeming qualities, it’s probably best to lay the habit down. School systems such as Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and others are leading the way by eliminating soda from the choices available at school. Perhaps as grownups, we should do our part by setting a good example during off-school hours as well. And saving our own throats along the way.
Q: I suspect that my dad has Alzheimer’s, although he’s never had an “official” diagnosis. Lately, we’ve noticed that his forgetfulness and agitation gets worse in the evening. Is this common and is it something we should be concerned about?
JVW: It is so common that it even has a name — Sundowner’s Syndrome. There is no known cause for Sundowner’s Syndrome, but just ask anyone who works with Alzheimer’s patients and they’ll have stories to tell that will probably be very similar to with your experience with your father. One theory is that sensory stimulation builds up from the day and gradually overwhelms the person by the time evening rolls around. But there are some things that you can do to minimize this behavior so nighttime is less stressful for both your dad and his caretaker.
The most important thing is to maintain routine. Daily structure is critical. New information, change, and surprises are hard to cope with for those who experience loss of memory. Keep this in mind when things such as holidays, special events, or even doctor’s appointments crop up, and try to pad such days with lots of rest.
Make sure the house is well lit in advance of the setting sun. It may help to close the curtains early too, easing the transition from light to dark. A few rest periods during the day, even after routine tasks such as dressing and meals, will alleviate the fatigue that can contribute to this evening anxiety. Try to make this time quiet and distraction-free, allowing for a mental break and an opportunity to process incoming information from the day.
It might be helpful to you and your family to obtain the “official” diagnosis that you mention, and find out if your suspicions are true. Although there is no known cure at this time, there are some things your dad could try that may slow the progression of his condition — such as supplementing with lithium or testosterone. But more important, there is extensive information available that could help increase your family’s awareness of how to cope in the coming months and years. Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s can be a physically and emotionally draining job that no family should have to bear alone.
GERD is an acronym for gastroesophageal reflux disease, in which a backflow of acid from the stomach into the swallowing tube or esophagus. It is often mistaken for a disease caused by too much stomach acid, rather than a disease of muscle, specifically the muscular valve that guards the lower end of the esophagus, known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). When functioning normally, this valve opens wide to permit swallowed food and liquids to pass easily into the stomach, and then it shuts down soon after the food has passed so as to block any acidic stomach juices from making the return trip up the esophagus. If the LES is working normally, stomach acid stays put, no matter how much of it there is. On the other hand, if the LES is asleep at the switch, even a small amount of acid could reflux back up the esophagus under the right conditions.
Scientists have found that in people with GERD, the LES opens briefly when it’s not supposed to. If there’s even a small amount of acid or anything else in the stomach, and it happens to be in the vicinity of the LES when the valve pops open inappropriately, the result is reflux. The primary symptom of reflux is, of course, heartburn. If reflux happens too frequently and exposes the esophageal lining to too much acid over too long a period, it causes GERD. Once an area has become inflamed or irritated, any amount of acid will tend to advance the destructive process, ultimately to the formation of one or more ulcers. GERD sufferers are also at higher risk for developing esophageal cancer…and they definitely are advised to refrain from drinking any carbonated beverages.
Yours in good health,
Managing Editor Nutrition & Healing
Mohandas Mallath, M.D. et al. “Report: Soda pop good for liver cancer, bad for esophageal cancer,” Digestive Disease Week (www.gastro.com), 5/17/04