Sugary drinks are associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) as well as some adverse changes in lipids, inflammatory factors, and leptin, according to a new analysis of men participating in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, reported by Dr Lawrence de Koning (Children’s Hospital Boston, MA) and colleagues online March 12, 2012 in Circulation.
“Even a moderate amount of sugary beverage consumption-we are talking about one can of soda every day-is associated with a significant 20% increased risk of heart disease even after adjusting for a wide range of cardiovascular risk factors,” senior author Dr Frank B Hu (Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA) told heartwire. “The increased risk is quite substantial, and I think has important public-health implications given the widespread consumption of soda, not only in the US but also increasing very rapidly in developing countries.”
The researchers did not find an increased risk of CHD with artificially sweetened beverages in this analysis, however. “Diet soda has been shown to be associated with weight gain and metabolic diseases in previous studies, even though this hasn’t been substantiated in our study,” says Hu. “The problem with diet soda is its high-intensity sweet taste, which may condition people’s taste. It’s still an open question whether diet soda is an optimal alternative to regular soda; we need more data on this. ”
Hu says water is the best thing to drink, or coffee or tea. Fruit juice is “not a very good alternative, because of the high amount of sugar,” he adds, although if diluted with water, “it’s much better than a can of soda,” he notes.
And Hu says although the current results apply only to men, prior data from his group in women in the Nurses’ Health Study [from 2009] were comparable, “which really boosts the credibility of the findings.”
Inflammation could be a pathway for impact of soda upon CHD risk
Hu and colleagues explain that while much research has shown a link between the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and type 2 diabetes, few studies have looked at the association of these drinks with CHD.
Hence, they analyzed the associations of cumulatively averaged sugar-sweetened (eg, sodas) and artificially sweetened (eg, diet sodas) beverage intake with incident fatal and nonfatal CHD (MI) in 42 883 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up study. Beginning in 1986 and every two years until December 2008, participants answered questionnaires about diet and other health habits. A blood sample was provided midway through the study.
There were 3683 CHD cases over 22 years of follow-up. Those in the top quartile of sugar-sweetened-beverage intake had a 20% higher relative risk of CHD than those in the bottom quartile (RR 1.20; p for trend <0.001) after adjustment for age, smoking, physical activity, alcohol, multivitamins, family history, diet quality, energy intake, body-mass index, preenrollment weight change, and dieting.
Adjustment for self-reported High cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, and diagnosed type 2 diabetes only slightly attenuated these associations, which suggests that drinking soda “may impact on CHD risk above and beyond traditional risk factors,” say the researchers.
Consumption of artificially sweetened drinks was not significantly associated with CHD (multivariate RR 1.02; p for trend=0.28).
Intake of sugar-sweetened drinks, but not artificially sweetened ones, was also significantly associated with increased triglycerides and several circulating inflammatory factors-including C-reactive protein, interleukin 6 (IL-6), and tumor-necrosis-factor receptor 1 (TNFr1)-as well as decreased HDL cholesterol, lipoprotein (a) (Lp[a]), and leptin (p<0.02).
“Inflammation is a key factor in the pathogenesis of cardiovascular disease and cardiometabolic disease and could represent an additional pathway by which sugar-sweetened beverages influence risk,” say Hu et al.
Cutting consumption of soda is one of easiest behaviors to change
Hu says that one of the major constituents of soda, high-fructose corn syrup, is subsidized in the US, making such drinks “ridiculously cheap” and helping explain why consumption is so high, particularly in lower socioeconomic groups.
“Doctors should set an example for their patients first,” he stresses. “Then, for people who already have heart disease or who are at high risk, physicians should be advising them to cut back on sugary beverages; it’s almost a no-brainer, like recommending that they stop smoking and do more exercise. The consumption of sugary beverages is a relatively easy behavior to change.”
And although this particular study included mostly white subjects and there are few data on the risk of cardiovascular disease associated with the consumption of soda in people of other ethnicities, there are data on its effect on type 2 diabetes in these groups, he says.
“It has been shown for minority groups-such as African Americans and Asians-that they are more susceptible to the detrimental effects” of sugary drinks on diabetes incidence, he notes.
Lisa Nainggolan | Journalist
Lisa Nainggolan joined theheart.org in 2000 and worked concurrently on jointandbone.org from 2000 to 2004.
She was a member of theheart.org team that won the Online News Association Online Journalism Award in the category of Specialty Site Journalism-Independent in 2010. In 2004, she won the Society for Women’s Health Research Excellence award for her article: “Pregnant pause: evaluation of pregnant women with heart disease” and the same year came in second in the European Medical Writers Association Arthritis Writing Excellence Award, Medical Press category.