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Sugar-Sweetened Drinks Cause Cardiovascular Damage

A review suggests that added sugar in drinks impacts more than the endocrine system

It has been established that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages, such as sodas or energy drinks, leads to an increased risk of disorders such as type 2 diabetes and obesity. Recent research has been focusing on the link between added sugar consumption via beverages and cardiovascular disease as well. A review published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology has found a link between the sugars in sweetened beverages (such as high fructose corn syrup) and the risk of cardiovascular damage.

The review concluded that just one or two servings a day of sugar-sweetened beverages comes with increased risk of heart attack, fatal heart disease, and stroke. It also reaffirmed the risk between these drinks and type 2 diabetes. Specifically, the risk of heart attack or fatal heart disease increased by 35%, the risk of stroke increased by 16%, and the risk of type 2 diabetes increased by 26%.

These numbers illustrate the importance of modifying diets to reduce intake of not just fats and cholesterol, but also sugars. Sugar-sweetened beverages are a large source of sugar in our diets: they make up half of consumed added sugar in the United States. The beverages are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup or table sugar. Both of these contain glucose and fructose. Glucose consumption is linked to type 2 diabetes, itself a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Fructose causes cardiovascular damage through a different mechanism: it increases serum levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and can even cause non-alcoholic fatty liver. Fructose also increases abdominal fat.

The consumption of the sugar in the form of a liquid drink compounds the problem. Sugar in liquid form is more rapidly consumed because satiety occurs more slowly. Liquid sugar is also absorbed faster. The review suggested that people either completely eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages or limit them. Added sugar is not just limited to these drinks, though. People should scan ingredient lists for keywords such as molasses, dextrose, sucrose, or corn syrup to ascertain whether a product contains added sugars.

Practice Pearls:

  • Consumption of one or two servings of sugar-sweetened beverages a day results in an increased risk of fatal heart attack and stroke.
  • Fructose, a common ingredient in sugar-sweetened drinks, causes cardiovascular damage by stimulating hepatic release of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol.
  • Clinicians should instruct their patients to avoid or limit consumption of added sugar. Do not drink sugar-sweetened drinks and search ingredient lists for keywords that indicate added sugar.

Malik VS, Hu FB. “Fructose and cardiometabolic health: what the evidence from the sugar-sweetened beverages tells us.” J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015;66(14):1615-1624. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2015.08.025.