Individuals who choose sugary drinks may be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, a new study suggests. The study correlates sweetened drink intake with elevated cholesterol levels, which may cause long-term cardiac health problems.
As many as 17.9 million people die each year from cardiovascular disease— a word that applies to different conditions affecting the heart and the vascular system.
Diet, high blood pressure (hypertension), as well as increased blood sugar and cholesterol are the main risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
An elevated amount of lipids in the blood— called dyslipidemia — is one of the metabolic disorders that physicians are trying to prevent as part of the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Nevertheless, specialists must also consider the factors that may lead to dyslipidemia.
New research — led by researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center for Aging at Tufts University in Boston, MA — now suggests that older adults may be more vulnerable to dyslipidemia if they consume sugary drinks on a daily basis.
The findings of the study are published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
They show that older adults who have a strong preference for sweetened drinks have raised triglyceride levels and reduced high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels.
This, they claim, could later lead to dyslipidemia, which could, in effect, impact cardiovascular health in the long run.
“Our findings show that what we put in our glass will lead to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease by worsening lipid levels,” says co-author Nicola McKeown, PhD, who is a nutritional epidemiologist.
“Managing blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels is an important goal and a successful strategy to avoid heart attack and stroke,” she said.
Sugary drinks linked to low ‘good’ cholesterol
In their sample, researchers analyzed data from two samples enrolled by researchers at different stages of the Framingham Offspring Sample.
The cohorts comprised 3,146 participants from 1991 to 2014, and 3,584 participants from 2002 to 2011.
Initially, the team analyzed data from the first generation, which included people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s.
The researchers had access to the participants ‘ HDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels from baseline physical tests, as well as once every 4 years over an average follow-up span of about 12 years.
The team was also able to estimate the participants ‘ consumption of different types of drinks from information collected through detailed surveys.
By looking at all the results, the researchers found that participants who drank one more sweetened drink per day at the most recent follow-up test had a 98% higher incidence of low HDL cholesterol at the follow-up test than those who rarely drank sugary drinks.
They also had a 53 per cent higher incidence of elevated triglyceride levels at the same landmark.
Similar findings emerged from the team’s study of long-term sweetened beverage consumption patterns— over approximately 12 years.
The investigators note that the results are bad news: HDL cholesterol is also known as “healthy” cholesterol because its main task is to eliminate low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “poor” cholesterol from the bloodstream before it can obstruct the arteries, which may increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular problems.
At the same time, high levels of triglycerides are also a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Taken together, high triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol can lead to dyslipidemia that can cause damage to the heart and vascular system in the long run.
“The results suggest that high intakes of added sugar, such as soda, lemonade or fruit, may influence the risk of dyslipidemia as we age,” says McKeown.
One dietary approach to help maintain a lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride level may be to avoid drinks with added sugars.’– Nicola McKeown, Ph.D.
‘Better of quenching thirst with water’
The results remained consistent when the researchers looked at data from the second cohort, which included a slightly younger population in the 40s.
Among these participants, those who had a higher intake of sugary drinks had lower levels of HDL cholesterol and higher levels of triglyceride in follow-up tests— every 4 years— than those who rarely drank sweetened drinks.
However, the researchers note that the metabolic changes in this younger cohort were not as dramatic as they were in the older cohort, making it more difficult to tell whether they increased their risk of dyslipidemia.
“With these younger participants, we have seen adverse improvements, but they are likely to be too young during the brief follow-up period to know if they will eventually develop dyslipidemia,” reports First Author Danielle Haslam, PhD.
Still, she adds that the current findings “contribute to the mounting evidence that sugary drinks should be avoided to help maintain long-term health.”
While the team did not find a definitive correlation between 100 per cent fruit juice or diet drink consumption and risk of dyslipidemia, it nevertheless advised people not to substitute plain water with other beverages.
“We’re better off quenching our thirst with water,” McKeown points out. “The current research on long-term intake of dietary soda in the health sector is inconclusive, so it is wise to suggest that dietary drinks should only be occasional indulgence,” she adds.
“As for 100% fruit juice,” she continues, “it is better to reduce consumption and eat whole fruit if possible, as suggested in the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”