The results came from a new observational study published yesterday in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
In previous studies, added sugars have been shown to increase cardiovascular disease risk. Beverages such as sodas, sports drinks and fruit-flavored drinks are the largest source of added sugars for Americans.
“For some time, we have known sugary drinks can have a negative effect on Americans’ health status, yet the assumption for many is that they only contribute to weight gain,” said Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., M.P.H., chief medical officer for prevention and chief of the Center for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the American Heart Association. “This research reinforces our understanding of the potential negative impact sugary drinks have on blood cholesterol, which increases heart disease risk. It is yet one more reason for all of us to cut back on sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages.”
Researchers hypothesized that dyslipidemia could be one pathway by which sugary drinks may increase cardiovascular disease risk. An estimated 40% to 50% of U.S. adults are affected by dyslipidemia, an unhealthy imbalance of cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Researchers collected medical data from up to 5,924 participants from the Offspring and Generation 3 cohorts of the Framingham Heart Study, who were followed for an average of 12.5 years between 1991 and 2014. The study looked at intergenerational results, as well, as children and grandchildren of the Framingham Heart Study participated in the research.
Beverages in this study fell into three categories: 12-ounce sugary drinks, 12-ounce low-calorie sweetened beverages (including naturally and artificially sweetened ‘diet’ sodas), and 8-ounce fruit juices derived from whole fruits with no added sugars.
Drinking more than 12 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages daily was associated with a 53% higher incidence of high triglycerides and a 98% higher incidence of low HDL cholesterol compared to those who drank less than one serving per month.
Regularly drinking low-calorie sweetened beverages did not appear to be associated with increased dyslipidemia risk.
Regularly drinking 12 ounces of 100% fruit juice daily was not associated with the adverse changes, though further research is needed to warrant this finding, the AHA reports.
“Reducing the number of or eliminating sugary drink consumption may be one strategy that could help people keep their triglyceride and HDL cholesterol at healthier levels,” lead study author Nicola McKeown, PhD, said. “And, while our study didn’t find negative consequences on blood lipids from drinking low-calorie sweetened drinks, there may be health consequences of consuming these beverages on other risk factors. Water remains the preferred and healthiest beverage.”
While previous cross-sectional studies have had similar findings, this study reaffirms those findings with prospective data. One potential limitation of the study is that participants self-reported their dietary intake.
The American Heart Association recommends people eliminate sugary drink consumption to improve heart health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.