They have been linked to obesity and diabetes, but a new study now says that sugar-sweetened beverages can also lead to heart disease.
The study, conducted by researchers at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology, found that regular consumption of sugary soft drinks and other sweetened beverages promotes weight gain because those calories aren’t filling, thus people do not reduce their food consumption, which results in an excess of hundreds or thousands of calories.
According to the study, just one or two servings of sugar-sweetened beverages each day can lead to a 26 percent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a 35 percent higher risk of heart disease or heart attack, and a 16 percent greater risk of stroke.
Regular consumption of the drinks is also tied to kidney stones, gall stones, and gout.
“Since we rarely consume fructose in isolation, the major source of fructose in the diet comes from fructose-containing sugars, sucrose and high fructose corn syrup, in sugar-sweetened beverages,” writes lead study author Frank Hu. “Our findings underscore the urgent need for public health strategies that reduce the consumption of these drinks.
“Part of the problem is how fructose behaves in the body,” Dr. Hu says, explaining how it is processed differently by the body than other forms of sugar. “While glucose is escorted by insulin into cells to be used as fuel, fructose doesn’t need the escort. It’s processed in the liver, where it can be converted into triglycerides, otherwise known as blood fats. These can lead to insulin resistance, which is a leading cause of not only diabetes, but of heart disease.”
Despite dire health warnings and numerous studies showing that sugar-laden drinks can damage the body and promote disease, soft drinks, energy drinks, and other sweetened beverages are so culturally accepted and marketed as fun and harmless that most people still reach for one without concern — a custom that Dr. Hu says is “particularly concerning” since all it takes is one a day to put people on the path to poor health.