Sweet Drinks And Women’s Health?
I’m concerned about reports that drinking sugary beverages increases the risk of heart disease in women. Is this really true?
Andrew Weil, M.D. | June 12, 2020
Findings from a large study among California teachers showed that women who consumed one or more sugary beverages daily had a risk of cardiovascular disease that was nearly 20 percent higher than that of women who never or rarely drank these beverages. The study began in 1995 and included 106,178 women, average age 52. None had been diagnosed with heart disease, stroke or diabetes when they joined the study.
The drinks investigated included caloric soft drinks, sweetened bottled waters and teas, and fruit drinks with added sugar but not 100 percent fruit juices.
The study also showed that consuming one or more of these sweetened drinks daily was linked to a 26 percent higher likelihood of needing a procedure to open occluded arteries and a 21 percent higher likelihood of having a stroke compared to women who rarely or never consumed sugary beverages.
When they joined the study, the women reported what they drank – and how much – on a food questionnaire. After that, researchers examined statewide inpatient hospitalization records to determine whether a woman had suffered a heart attack, a stroke or had surgery to open blocked arteries. The women who reported the highest intake of sugar-sweetened drinks were typically younger, more likely to smoke and be obese, and less likely to consume healthy foods.
Other findings: drinking one or more sugar-added fruit drinks daily was associated with a 42 percent greater likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease, and consuming soft drinks was linked to a 23 percent greater risk of cardiovascular disease.
Study leader, Cheryl Anderson, Ph.D., of the University of California San Diego and chair of the American Heart Association’s Nutrition Committee, noted that because the study was observational, it did not prove cause and effect. She added that high blood sugar is associated with oxidative stress and inflammation, insulin resistance, unhealthy cholesterol profiles and type 2 diabetes, all conditions strongly linked to the gradual, progressive narrowing of arteries that underlies most cardiovascular disease.
For the record, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting added sugar to no more than 100 calories a day (6 teaspoons) for most women and no more than 150 calories a day (9 teaspoons) for most men. The AHA added that sugar-sweetened beverages are the biggest source of added sugars in the American diet; a typical 12-ounce can of regular soda contains 8 teaspoons of sugar.
This wasn’t the first study to indicate a link between sugar-sweetened drinks and cardiovascular disease. An earlier one from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, published in 2015, showed that high sugar consumption may relieve stress in humans and thus trigger its “habitual over-consumption…and amplify sugar’s detrimental health effects, including obesity.” And a study from the University of California, Davis, also published in 2015, showed that the risk of death from cardiovascular disease rises as the amount of added sugar in the daily diet increases.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Cheryl Anderson et al “Sugar‐Sweetened Beverage Intake and Cardiovascular Disease Risk in the California Teachers Study,” May 13, 2020, Journal of the American Heart Association, doi.org/10.1161/JAHA.119.014883