Heart Disease Prevention – A Soda a Day Increases CHD Risk by 20%

by Leigh on March 26, 2012

heart disease risk factors sugar

Increased consumption of soda in developing countries could lead to widespread increases in heart disease.

A new study has found that just a soda a day has a 20% increase in associated heart disease risk, even when accounting for lifestyle, dietary, and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The research, which only looked at men, found that even a ‘moderate amount of sugary beverage consumption’ increased the risk of coronary heart disease as well as being associated with adverse changes in lipid profiles, inflammation, and leptin. For many years the mantra of many health professionals has been ‘everything in moderation’ but with such research linking sugar and heart disease it may be time to change that advice.

Sugar and Health

The Health Professionals Follow-Up Study was reported by Dr Lawrence de Koning, et al, in the journal Circulation. Senior author, Dr Frank B Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, noted that the 20% increased risk from just a can of soda a day was quite substantial and had important implications not only for the US but also for those in developing countries where such sugary beverages are becoming increasingly popular and available.

Heart Disease and Diet

The study did not find a significantly increased risk of CHD with drinks sweetened artificially however, although there are other health concerns with many sugar substitutes, aside from heart disease. Although no such association was observed in this review, other studies have found an association between artificial sweeteners used in diet soda and weight gain and metabolic diseases. There is concern that the excessive sweetness of diet soda drinks actually conditions a person’s tastes and leads them to seek ever sweeter foods and beverages that do contain sugar.


Heart Disease Prevention

Advice on healthy beverages to consume tends to concentrate on water, herbal teas, and even coffee and black tea. Fruit juice is, however, also quite full of sugar and so has a number of health implications. Diluted fruit juice with meals is considered healthier than soda but too much can have adverse effects on oral health and, eventually, lead to heart disease through poor gum health, infections, increased weight, and other mechanisms. African Americans and Asians are thought to be particularly at risk due to an increased susceptibility in these ethnic groups to diabetes development when sugar consumption is high.

What Causes Heart Disease?

The study reported in the latest publication only included the results from men in the research group but the author, Hu, noted that previous data collected in the Nurses’ Health Study showed a comparable finding regarding sugar consumption and heart disease in women. One of the mechanisms proposed to explain the connection between a soda a day and heart disease risks is that of inflammation. The increased soda consumption was associated with increased triglyceride levels and levels of circulating inflammatory factors such as C-reactive protein, interleukin 6 (IL-6), and tumor-necrosis-factor receptor 1 (TNFr1). Decreased HDL cholesterol, lipoprotein (a), and leptin were also associated with an increase in sugary beverages and may be considered to play a part in raising the risk of heart disease through poor control of inflammation and metabolic processes.

heart health check

Checking soda consumption could become a regular feature of heart health evaluation for those at risk.

Diabetes and Heart Disease

Increased consumption of sugary beverages has been found to be associated with type 2 diabetes risk in a number of studies but little research has been done on the link between sugar and heart health. This study used answers to questionnaires and analysis of blood samples to look at the incidence of fatal and non-fatal heart attacks in more than 40,000 men between 1986 and 2008. Their consumption of soda or other sugar-sweetened beverages, as well as artificially-sweetened drinks was also recorded.

Risk Factors for Heart Disease

Of those included in the study, there were 3683 cases of coronary heart disease in the twenty-two years’ worth of data. Classifying the men into four groups of soda-consumption revealed that those in the highest quartile had a 20% higher incidence (relative risk) of CHD than those in the bottom quartile. This relative risk of 1.20 was found after adjusting for other heart disease risk factors such as age, smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, family history, body mass index, multivitamin use, diet, weight changes, dieting, and energy intake. The results were also adjusted based on the men’s self-reported high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, and diagnoses of type 2 diabetes but such factors only slightly attenuated the results. The implication then is that the consumption of soda may be a higher risk factor for CHD than many traditional factors already monitored by most physicians.

Heart Disease Prevention

Family doctors may, therefore, begin to focus more on assessing and advising their patients on consumption of sugary drinks, especially soda-type drinks full of high-fructose corn syrup which is actually subsidized in the US to help the agricultural industry. Many of those in lower socioeconomic groups (which also often increases the likelihood of other risk factors being present) consume considerable quantities of such sugary beverages because they are so cheap. Anyone with heart disease or with a high degree of risk for heart disease may begin to be advised by their doctor to cut back on sugary beverages and make other changes to nutrition for heart health; such dietary modification could prove easier for many than stopping smoking or increasing activity levels. With a soda a day increasing heart disease risk by 20%, ditching that 20oz bucket of iced tea could have a major impact on both quality of life and longevity.

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