Consuming sugar-sweetened drinks – more than 12 ounces once a day to be precise – has been associated with lowering levels of ‘good cholesterol’ (high-density lipoprotein (HDL), as well as increasing triglyceride levels. These lipid imbalances directly correspond to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in both, middle-aged and older adults.
Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the observational study also showed that drinking about 12 ounces of 100 percent fruit juice on a daily basis was not linked to any adverse changes in the levels of blood triglycerides and cholesterol.
Artificial Sugars – Hazard for Your Heart
Sugars may be naturally occurring in the diet or supplemented. Naturally occurring sugars include fructose, such as that present in fruit, and lactose, which is also commonly known as milk sugar. Added sugars are syrups and sugars that are put into drinks and food during preparation or processing. Beverages including sodas, fruit-flavoured drinks and sports drinks are the largest sources of supplemented sugars in the US.
It is extremely important to know how much sugar you are consuming, since the human body does not require too much sugar to function adequately. Moreover, added sugars contain nothing but zero nutrients and additional calories which can potentially lead to excessive weight gain and obesity, well-known contributory factors to heart disease.
Procedure of the Study
Approximately 40 to 50 percent of US adults suffer from dyslipidemia, a harmful imbalance of triglycerides and cholesterol levels in blood. This unhealthy ratio significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
For the study, researchers hypothesized that dyslipidemia could possibly be one of the ways by which sugary beverages increase the risk of CVD.
The beverages were characterized as:
- 12 ounces of sugary drinks (fruit-flavoured drinks, sodas, pre-sweetened coffee/tea, sports drinks)
- 12 ounces of low-calorie sweetened beverages (naturally/artificially sweetened ‘diet’ sodas and flavoured drinks)
- 8 ounces of 100 percent fruit juices (orange, grapefruit, apple and others with no added sugars)
Observational medical data of about 5,924 participants was obtained from the Offspring and Generation 3 cohorts of the Framingham Heart Study, who were followed for about 12 and half years (1991-2014). The Offspring cohort included children of the original participants and the Generation 3 cohort included the grandchildren of the original participants. All study participants were categorized into five groups based on how often they consumed the different types of beverages, ranking from ‘low intake’ (less than 1 serving per month) to ‘high intake’ (more than 1 serving per day).
Finding a Link between Artificial Sugars and Cardiovascular Disease
Researchers analyzed how the various beverages and their consumption ranks correlated with deviations in blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Over a period of four years, they determined the following:
- Consuming more than 12 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages a day was linked to a 53 percent greater occurrence of high triglycerides, and a 98 percent greater occurrence of low HDL ‘good’ cholestrol in blood, as compared to participants who consumed less than 12 ounces per month.
- Regular consumption of low-calorie sweetened beverages did not seem to have any association with an increased risk of dyslipidemia.
- Daily consumption of 12 ounces of 100 percent fruit juice was not linked to any adverse changes in blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, however further research is needed to confirm this finding.
Keeping Heart Disease at Bay
“For some time, we have known sugary drinks can have a negative effect on Americans’ health status, yet the assumption for many is that they only contribute to weight gain,” explained Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., M.P.H., Chief Medical Officer for Prevention and Chief of the Center for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the American Heart Association. “This research reinforces our understanding of the potential negative impact sugary drinks have on blood cholesterol which increases heart disease risk. It is yet one more reason for all of us to cut back on sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages.”
According to lead author, Nicola McKeown, Ph.D., nutrition epidemiologist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, reducing the number of sugary drinks consumed or eliminating their consumption altogether could be one way to help maintain healthier levels of blood triglycerides and cholesterol. “While our study did not find any negative consequences on blood lipids from drinking low-calorie sweetened drinks, there might be health consequences of consuming these beverages on other risk factors,” she commented.
It is recommended by the American Heart Association that individuals restrict their consumption of sugar drinks to decrease the risk of CVD. As for now, all research suggests that water is most significantly, and in all aspects, the healthiest beverage.