Researchers analysed data from almost 43,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and found that those who drank one 12-oz. sugar-sweetened beverage a day had a 20% higher risk of heart disease than those who didn't drink any sugar-sweetened beverages.
They also found that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages was linked to inflammation and higher levels of harmful fats in the blood.
"There are obesity and diabetes epidemics which will ultimately lead to an increase in [the] numbers of cardiovascular deaths in years to come," said Dr. Kevin Marzo, chief of cardiology at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y. "Obesity rates have increased in tandem with consumption of sugar-loaded drinks."
"The time for research should be over," Marzo added. "The American Heart Association has already given [its] recommendation for not consuming more than 450 calories from sweetened drinks per week - less than three cans of soda."
Increased heart risk with sugary drinks
The men in the study, mostly white and from 40 to 75 years old, were questioned about their health and eating habits every two years from 1986 until 2008. They also provided a blood sample halfway through the study period.
Artificially sweetened beverages did not increase the risk of heart attack, nor did less frequent consumption (twice weekly or twice monthly) of sugar-sweetened beverages, according to the study published in the journal Circulation.
The increased risk of heart disease among men who regularly drank sugar-sweetened beverages persisted even after the researchers controlled for other risk factors such as smoking, alcohol use, physical inactivity and a family history of heart disease.
"This study adds to the growing evidence that sugary beverages are detrimental to cardiovascular health," lead author Dr. Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology in the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, said.
"Certainly, it provides strong justification for reducing sugary beverage consumption among patients, and more importantly, in the general population," he added. While the study noted an association between sugary drinks and heart disease, it did not show cause and effect.
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