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New study hints drinking sugar-sweetened soda boosts heart risk

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By David Liu PhD.

Wednesday June 13, 2012 (foodconsumer.org) --  A new study in the March 12, 2012 issue of the journal Circulation suggests that drinking too much of sugar-sweetened beverages or sodas may increase risk of coronary heart disease.

The study led by Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD at Harvard Medical School and colleagues found that men who drank the highest amounts of sugar-sweetened sodas were 20 percent more likely to suffer coronary heart disease, compared to those who drank the lowest amounts.

The study did not find any association between beverages with artificial sweeteners added and risk of coronary heart disease though.

Sugars used in sugar-sweetened sodas are mostly high fructose corn syrup, which is now called by the industry corn sugar.  High fructose corn syrup is a mix of glucose and fructose.  

Research by Princeton University scientists has shown that high fructose can cause more damage to glucose, which is the base compound for table sugar, cane sugar or beet sugar. For that reason, some leading beverage companies started using cane sugar in their products again and cut use of high fructose corn syrup.

The study was based on data from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, a prospective cohort study of 42 883 men.  Dr. Hu and colleagues conducted the study because they wanted to see if sugar sweetened soft drinks have any association with the risk of coronary heart disease although it is known that this type of beverage has been linked to increased risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus.

In the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, subjects were followed up for 22 years during which 3683 incident cases of fatal and non-fatal coronary heart disease were recorded.

The increase by 20% in the risk of coronary heart disease in those who consumed the highest amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages was attributed to the beverage consumption alone because other factors were considered including age, smoking status, physical activity, alcohol consumption, use of multivitamins, family history, diet quality, energy intake, body mass index, pre-enrollment weight change, and dieting habits.

Good news is that artificially sweetened beverages were not significantly associated with coronary heart disease.

The researchers also found that drinking high amounts of sugar-sweetened sodas were linked to increased serum triglycerides, C-reactive protein, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor receptors 1 and 2 and decreased high-density lipoprotein, lipoprotein(a), and leptin.  It means that drinking sugar contained beverages promoted production of negative biomarkers, some of which are linked with heart risk.

The authors concluded "Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages was associated with increased risk of (coronary heart disease) CHD and some adverse changes in lipids, inflammatory factors, and leptin. Artificially sweetened beverage intake was not associated with CHD risk or biomarkers."

Coronary heart disease is also known as coronary artery disease, from which 405,309 people died in 2008 and the disease was expected to cost the United States $108.9 billion in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The U.S. government acknowledges that a healthy diet is important in preventing coronary heart disease.  The CDC states on its website that choosing healthful meal and snack options can help you avoid heart disease and its complications among other things.

A health observer suggested that snacks, which are prepared in most cases by thermal processing, can increase risk of inflammation, which is linked to heart disease. 

According to Dr. T Colin Campbell, a Cornell University nutrition professor, a plant-based diet is key for coronary heart disease prevention.  Former President Bill Clinton who suffered heart disease and received surgery now follows a plant-based diet and he said he feels great after the dietary change.

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