Most of us are aware by now that drinking sugary soft drinks can make us fat. Did you know that they can also lead to heart disease?
That – without pulling punches – is the basic finding of a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health that tracked 43,000 people aged 40-75 for over twenty years. They determined that drinking sugary beverages – in particular soft drinks – is an independent health risk for heart disease. It's not just a contributing factor; the study found that drinking too much soda can itself cause heart disease.
How much is too much? The study found that drinking just two cans a day increase the risk of heart disease 20%, the risk of pancreatic cancer by 87%, the risk of diabetes by 44%, and the risk of gout by 85%. The risk of heart disease rose with every can of cola consumed.
In this study, blood samples taken from participants indicated that those who consumed sugary soft drinks had high levels of triglycerides and proteins linked to heart disease.
Your blood pressure rises incrementally with every can of soda
In a related study published in the journal Hypertension, British and American researchers found that with every serving of a sugary soft drink the subjects consumed, their systolic blood pressure rose by 1.6mmHg, and their diastolic blood pressure rose by 0.8mmHg. People who have high blood pressure are more than twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke than those who do not.
If that's not bad enough, a larger study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition studied 127,456 men and women for up to 28 years, and found that those who consumed soft drinks were at much higher risk of stroke. Men who consumed at least one serving of sugar-sweetened cola each day had an 8% higher risk of stroke; women had a 19% higher risk.
Worse, in this study researchers found that even diet soft drinks were problematic. A strong association was found between sugary soft drinks and ischemic stroke (caused by a blood clot obstructing blood flow to the brain), but a similar association was found between diet soft drinks and hemorrhagic stroke (caused by uncontrolled bleeding in the brain).
The study authors suggested that consuming soft drinks results in an extremely rapid rise in blood sugar (glucose), and thus in insulin, which is needed to process that glucose. Over time, these rapid increases impair the body's ability to utilize insulin, and allow inflammation. Both are known to affect hardening of the arteries, blood clotting, and the stability of fatty plaque in arterial walls, and are thus known risk factors for stroke.
The bad news is even worse for kids
Researchers in Sydney, Australia have found early signs of heart disease in 12-year old children who have a high intake of sugary soft drinks. This study was based on analysis of the retinas of 2000 children, looking for narrowing of the blood vessels inside the eye, which is a known precursor to heart disease in adults. This narrowing of the arteries was found in the 12-year-olds who drank more than one glass of soda a day.
All of this research follows on the heels of soft drink manufacturers Coca-Cola and Pepsico finally removing a known carcinogenic ingredient from its products. The ingredient is a form of caramel food coloring that the Food and Drug Administration had been trying to ban for years. The soft drink manufacturers resisted, and finally removed it only after being threatened with having to put a cancer warning label on every can. To avoid the label, they removed it, while still claiming that the ingredient was "perfectly safe."
One wonders what they're going to claim in light of these recent studies.