Drinking 12 ounces of sugary drinks more than once per day is linked to lower levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C, known as “good” cholesterol) and higher levels of triglycerides in middle aged and older adults, both of which have been shown to increase risk of cardiovascular disease.
That’s according to a new observational study co-authored by School of Public Health researchers and published 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.
The researchers hypothesized that dyslipidemia could be one pathway by which sugary drinks may increase cardiovascular disease risk. An estimated 40 to 50 percent of US adults are affected by dyslipidemia, an unhealthy imbalance of cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
To determine the association between sugary drinks on triglyceride and cholesterol levels, the researchers used medical data from 5,924 participants from the Offspring and Generation 3 cohorts of the Boston University-based Framingham Heart Study, who were followed for an average of 12.5 years between 1991 and 2014. The Offspring cohort of the Framingham Heart Study includes the children of original participants in the Framingham Heart Study, and the Generation 3 cohort includes grandchildren of the original participants.
“The careful collection of data on diet and cardiovascular risk factors over multiple years from the Framingham Heart Study participants provide a unique resource to examine the effect of drinking sugary beverages on lipid profile, a known cardiovascular risk factor,” says study co-author Josée Dupuis, professor and chair of biostatistics.
For this study, the sugar-sweetened beverages were defined as: 12 ounces of sugary drinks, such as sodas, fruit-flavored drinks, sports drinks, and presweetened coffees and teas. Excluded from the sugar-sweetened beverage definition were low-calorie sweetened beverages, including naturally and artificially sweetened “diet” sodas or other flavored drinks, and 100 percent fruit juices with no added sugars. Study participants were classified into five groups according to how often they drank the sugar-sweetened beverage types, ranging from low intake (less than one serving per month) to high intake (more than one serving per day).
The researchers analyzed how the different drink types and their consumption levels correlated with changes in cholesterol and triglyceride levels over approximately four-year periods.
They found that drinking more than 12 ounces per day of sugar-sweetened beverages was associated with a 53 percent higher incidence of high triglycerides and a 98 percent higher incidence of low HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) compared to those who drank less than one serving per month.
On the other hand, drinking low-calorie sweetened beverages did not appear to be associated with increased dyslipidemia risk among the people who regularly drank low-calorie sweetened beverages, and regularly drinking up to 12 ounces of 100 percent fruit juice per day was not associated with adverse changes in cholesterol or dyslipidemia—although the authors write that further research is needed to warrant this finding.
“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,” says lead study author Nicola McKeown, a nutrition epidemiologist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. “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.”
The study was co-authored by Gina Peloso, assistant professor of biostatistics. The other co-authors were: Danielle E. Haslam, Alice H. Lichtenstein, and Caren E. Smith of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University; and Mark A. Herman of the Duke University School of Medicine.