Drinking Sugary Drinks Could Raise Heart Disease Risk, Study Suggests

That daily soda habit is even worse for you than you think.

Be kind to your ticker—it does so much for you.

One smart healthy step you can take? Cut back on sugary drinks, or nix them completely. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association last month, consuming more than 12 ounces of sugary drinks more than once per day is associated with lower levels of the so-called "good" cholesterol and higher levels of triglycerides for both middle aged and older adults. These are both associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. In this study, sugary beverages were defined as 12 ounces of sodas, fruit-flavored drinks, sports drinks, and pre-sweetened coffees and teas.

"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," said 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, via a press release shared on Science Daily. "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."

For the study, researchers looked at data of up to 5,924 participants in the Offspring and Generation 3 cohorts of the Framingham Heart Study, a highly respected longitudinal study looking at heart disease. Participants were tracked for an average of 12.5 years between 1991 and 20014, and the results certainly are concerning for regular consumers of sugary drinks. Drinking more than 12 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages was linked to a 53% higher incidence of high triglycerides and a 98% higher incidence of low HDL cholesterol (the "good" kind) compared to those in the study who consumed less than one serving of sugary drinks per month. Interestingly, individuals who regularly drank up to 12 ounces of 100% fruit juice per day did not show a correlation with adverse changes in cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, though further research is needed to corroborate this finding. In the research, drinking low-calorie sweetened beverages did not appear to be associated with elevated risk of dyslipidemia—an abnormal amount of lipids in the blood—among the people who regularly drank low-calorie sweetened beverages. It's worth noting, however, that many zero-calorie or low-calorie sweetened beverages use artificial sweeteners which have been linked in a wide body of research to many negative health outcomes.

"Reducing the number of or eliminating sugary drink consumption may be one strategy that could help people keep their triglyceride and HDL cholesterol at healthier levels," said lead study author Nicola McKeown, Ph.D., a nutrition epidemiologist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, in the same media statement. "And, while our study didn't find negative consequences on blood lipids from drinking low-calorie sweetened drinks, there may be health consequences of consuming these beverages on other risk factors. Water remains the preferred and healthiest beverage."

If you love the taste of carbonated beverages, consider making the switch to seltzer and adding a touch of sweetness by infusing it with fresh fruit (there are also flavored seltzers on the market created with natural ingredients and no added sugar).

With March now underway, American Heart Month may be over, but we think any time of the year is a good one to prioritize your heart health. Please pass the seltzer and a few wedges of limes our way.

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