Not just extra calories: Sugary drinks may boost risk of heart disease

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Sugary drinks can take a toll on your health that goes beyond extra calories.

Recent research shows women who drink one or more sugar-laden beverages — such as soda, sweetened water and teas, and fruit drinks — every day could boost their risk of cardiovascular disease by 20% compared to women who rarely or never drink them.

Daily consumption of such drinks also were associated with a 26% higher likelihood of needing a procedure to open clogged arteries, such as angioplasty, and a 21% higher chance of having a stroke.

The research was based on observational studies, and doesn’t prove cause and effect, but the authors hypothesized sugar may increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases in several ways.

"It raises glucose levels and insulin concentrations in the blood, which may increase appetite and lead to obesity, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease," said Dr. Cheryl Anderson, professor and interim chair of family and public health at the University of California San Diego and the study’s senior author.

Too much sugar in the blood also is linked to "oxidative stress and inflammation, insulin resistance, unhealthy cholesterol profiles and Type 2 diabetes, conditions that are strongly linked to the development of atherosclerosis, the slow narrowing of the arteries that underlies most cardiovascular disease," said Anderson, immediate past chair of the American Heart Association's nutrition committee.

Sugar-sweetened beverages are the biggest source of added sugars in the American diet. A typical 12-ounce can of regular soda has 130 calories and 8 teaspoons (34 grams) of sugar. The AHA recommends limiting added sugar to no more than 100 calories a day for most women, which is about 6 teaspoons, or 25 grams. For men, the recommendation is no more than 150 calories a day, which is about 9 teaspoons of sugar or 38 grams.

The research, which was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, is part of the ongoing California Teacher's Study that began in 1995. The study included more than 106,000 women who reported how much and what they drank via a food questionnaire. Participants, whose average age was 52, had not been diagnosed with heart disease, stroke or diabetes when they enrolled in the study.

Women who drank the most sugar-sweetened beverages were younger, more likely to be current smokers, obese and less likely to eat healthy foods.

What kind of sugary drinks women drank made a difference. One or more sugar-added fruit drinks a day was associated with a 42% greater likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease compared to women who rarely or never drank them. With soft drinks, that likelihood was 23%.

The study was unable to evaluate consumption of artificially sweetened beverages and/or sweetened hot beverages and was limited by having only one measurement of sugar-sweetened beverage intake.