October 10, 2013
Americans are so hooked on sugary beverages that 50 percent of us guzzle them daily—a habit that may be supersizing rates of early death, according to a scary new Harvard study. The researchers linked sweet drinks—from soda to sports and fruit beverages—to more than 180,000 deaths worldwide—25,000 in the US alone.
Not only are sugar-sweetened drinks making us fat, but the researchers also tied them to 133,000 deaths from diabetes, 44,000 from cardiovascular disease, and 6,000 cancer fatalities. The study was presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2013 Scientific Sessions.
The team spent five years analyzing data from national health studies around the world. Their findings add to mounting evidence that sugar-sweetened beverages—also known as “liquid candy”— are toxic beyond their calories.
Predictably, the American Beverage Association challenged the findings, saying that soft drinks are “safe and refreshing.” The group also noted that the research has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal and dubbed it “more about sensationalism than science” in a press release
“The researchers make a huge leap when they take beverage intake calculations from around the globe and allege that those beverages are the cause of deaths which the authors themselves acknowledge are due to chronic disease,” the industry group stated.
Killing Us Sweetly?
We’re swilling more soft drinks than ever before: Since the 1970s, consumption has doubled for women and tripled for men. Incredibly, the average teenaged boy swills about a half gallon of sugary drinks daily—the most of any age group, with a total of nearly 300 calories, reports the CDC. In fact, sugary drinks are now the top calorie source in teens’ diet, beating out pizza, according to Harvard School of Public Health.
Overall, 70 percent of boys ages 2 to 19 guzzle sugary drinks daily, compared to 60 percent of girls. Men ages 20 to 39 consume the second highest amount, adding an average of 252 calories a day to their diet.
That’s scary, since the researchers found that sweet drinks seem to be particularly lethal to adults under age 45. Among Americans in this age group, one in 10 obesity-related deaths were tied to sugar-sweetened beverages. However, this type of study isn’t designed to prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The biggest risk identified in the study was the strong link between sweet drinks and death from type 2 diabetes. Findings from the well-known Harvard nurses’ study offer strong evidence that drinking even one 12-ounce soft drink a day can double risk for this debilitating disease, which now affects nearly 26 million Americans.
How Sugar Damages the Heart
A study published last year in Circulation: the Journal of the American Heart Association reports that men who drink one 12-ounce sugar-sweetened beverage daily (equivalent to a can of soda) have 20 percent increased risk of heart disease, the leading killer of Americans. The researchers tracked 42,883 men for 22 years.
The findings mirror those of the Nurses’ Health Study of nearly 89,000 women which found that women who swigged one sugary drink per day had a 23 percent increased risk of a heart attack. While the studies don’t prove that sweet drinks spark heart disease, they found that the increased risk remained even when such major cardiovascular risks as smoking, family history, obesity, and a couch potato lifestyle were taken into account.
What’s more, men who guzzled sugary drinks had higher levels of blood fats called triglycerides and lower levels of HDL “good” cholesterol than men who shunned sweet drinks. Both obesity and diabetes—conditions that have been linked to these beverages in multiple studies—further escalate heart risk.
The AHA recommends that women limit themselves to no more than 100 calories a day from added sugar (about 6 teaspoons) and men to 150 calories (9 teaspoons). The group also advises a maximum of 450 calories (36 ounces) from sugar-sweetened beverages per week. The AHA’s guidelines apply to both sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.
Another Danger of Sweet Drinks: Dementia
Sugary thirst-quenchers are also suspected of increasing risk for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, recently reported. Indeed, these conditions are now being called “type 3 diabetes” due to the strong link between high blood sugar and memory loss.
“Americans are literally eating a ‘diabetes diet’ that’s very toxic to the brain and other vital organs,” says Dr. Joel Zonszein, medical director of the diabetes clinic at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “And one of the most terrible complications—brain damage—is occurring in younger and younger patients.”
A 2012 study found that key brain areas involved in memory and cognitive skills show damage once blood sugar hits the high end of the “normal” range, even when such risks as smoking, high blood pressure, alcohol abuse are taken into consideration.
In the study, adults ages 60 to 64, with normal fasting blood sugar, as defined by the World Health Organization, had brain scans. When the scans were repeated four years later, those with higher blood sugar showed greater atrophy in areas of the brain’s hippocampus and amygdala—both of which play a key role in memory and mental skills— compared to did people with lower blood sugar.
Filed under: Health |