Soft Drinks Linked to Higher Risk of Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors and to Metabolic Syndrome

Drinking more than one soft drink a day is associated with a higher risk of developing individual cardiovascular disease risk factors, as well as developing the cluster of risk factors known as metabolic syndrome, according to a 2007 study published in Circulation.

The research, part of the ongoing Framingham Heart Study that evaluates common factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease, followed middle-aged men and women during a four-year period.

At the start of the study, researchers established that participants who drank one or more soft drinks a day had a 48 percent higher chance of having metabolic syndrome than those who drank less. Over the four-year follow-up, the results were similar, showing that people who drank one or more soft drinks a day had a 44 percent higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome for the first time.

The researchers also found that compared to those who drank less, people who drank one of more soft drinks a day had higher risks for the individual components of metabolic syndrome, including:

  • a 31 percent greater risk of developing obesity
  • a 30 percent higher risk of developing an increased waist circumference
  • a 25 percent increased risk of developing high blood triglycerides
  • a 25 percent greater risk of developing high fasting blood glucose
  • a 32 percent increased risk of having low HDL (“good” cholesterol).

Also observed was a trend towards an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, though that was considered not statistically significant.

The results applied to people who drank either diet or regular soda. The researchers took into account a number of dietary and lifestyle factors of soft drink users, such as food that is typically eaten when soft drinks are consumed, and after adjusting for those, the scientists still found a significant association between soda consumption and risk of developing metabolic syndrome and multiple metabolic risk factors.

Reference: Dhringa R, Sullivan L, Jacques PF, et al. Soft drink consumption and risk of developing cardiometabolic risk factors and the metabolic syndrome in middle-aged adults in the community. Circulation, 2007;116:480-8.

Melissa’s comments:

Want to gain weight and develop metabolic syndrome? Just drink soda regularly. That’s what I’ve found in working with clients and readers of my books – and what this study points to, also. It’s amazing how people either don’t know this or forget this. This study was first published almost a year ago (with corrections to it added later), but many people missed it, so I’m covering it again now.

A beginning concept in nutrition to understand is if you want to be a healthy weight, don’t consume foods that are “nothing but empty calories” – foods that supply calories but no nutrients. This concept applies even more to drinks.

To me, it’s a no-brainer that if you drink high-calorie, high-sugar, nutrient-empty beverages, you’re going to gain weight and set off a cascade of events that lead to blood sugar problems, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome. Many people understand this, steer away from sweetened soft drinks and turn to diet soda instead. But this study found that drinking diet soda also increases the risk for heart disease risk factors and metabolic syndrome.

Researchers still don’t know the reasons why but they speculate that drinking lots of fluid at one meal leads to people eating more solid food at the next meal.

Another possibility is that drinking sweet drinks, whether regular or diet, perpetuates or stimulates cravings for the sweet taste and makes people more likely to eat sweet foods – something I definitely believe from my clinical experience working with clients.

Just as our bodies aren’t designed for high-calorie, high-sugar foods, they are even less designed for high-calorie, high-sugar beverages – or for calorie-free drinks sweetened with artificial sweeteners. Whether the drinks are made with high-fructose corn syrup (in regular soft drinks in the U.S.), refined white sugar (in regular soft drinks in some other countries), aspartame or sucralose (in diet drinks), all of these sweeteners are “artificial” – or not natural to our bodies. It isn’t surprising that drinks made with them end up causing metabolic abnormalities!

I recently have had a few clients contact me again after not consulting with me for several years. During that time, they started drinking soda again – or sometimes heavily sweetened Starbucks blended coffee drinks or other sweetened drinks – and they gained weight or developed metabolic syndrome, prediabetes or early-stage diabetes. They wanted to work with me again because they knew their sweet-drink habit was contributing to all the new health problems they had developed and they needed concentrated nutrition coaching to break their soft drink habit.

If you drink soda or other sweet drinks and know that habit is sabotaging your health and weight but don’t know how to overcome it, don’t be shy or embarrassed. It’s a tough habit to break! Sign up now for one of my nutrition coaching programs so I can work with you and help you beat the habit and get back on the road to health and a healthy weight.

© Copyright 2008 Melissa Diane Smith

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