We all know that cutting back on sugar is beneficial to our health. But now we have the data to prove it. Frequent consumption of sugary drinks such as sodas, sports drinks and juice is linked to an increased risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease and, to a lesser extent, from cancer (primarily colon and breast), according to new research. “There’s been previous studies that have shown strong and consistent links between the consumption of sweetened beverages and weight gain, Type 2 diabetes, as well as other cardiometabolic conditions such as heart disease and stroke,” said lead study author Vasanti Malik, from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The next step, Malik explains, was to examine how sugary beverages relate to the risk of premature death.
The researchers used data from 37,716 American men in the Health Professionals follow-up study — which started in 1986 — and 80,647 American women in the Nurses’ Health Study -which started in 1976. The results are a snapshot of the halfway point of the studies in 1994. Compared with women who had sugary beverages less than once per month, those who had more than two servings a day -defined as a standard glass, bottle or can – had a 63% increased risk of premature death, according to a study published this month. Men who did the same had a 29% increase in risk.
Those who consumed more than one sugary beverage per month but fewer than two per day seemed to experience a dose related effect: the more they drank, the greater the risk. The association weakened but remained true when researchers adjusted for lifestyle factors including dietary factors and physical activity, demographics and family history of Type 2 diabetes.
And if you’re thinking you’ll just switch to artificially sweetened beverages, considered by many to be a safer alternative to sugary drinks, think again. There’s more bad news for diet drink lovers. Drinking two or more of any kind of artificially sweetened drinks a day is linked to an increased risk of clot-based strokes, heart attacks and early death in women over 50, according to new studies from the Women’s Health Initiative, the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association. After controlling for lifestyle factors, the studies found that women who consumed two or more artificially sweetened beverages each day were 31% more likely to have a clot-based stroke, 29% more likely to have heart disease and 16% more likely to die from any cause than women who drank diet these beverages less than once a week or not at all. The risks were highest for women with no history of heart disease or diabetes and women who were obese or African-American. The same effect was not seen in men.
These studies indicate a strong link between artificially sweetened beverages and women’s risk of death, said one of the authors, Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “Exactly what is different about women that increases the association between consuming artificially sweetened beverages and the risk of dying prematurely requires more research to establish a cause and effect. What is it about these diet drinks? Is it something about the sweeteners? Are they doing something to our gut health and metabolism? These are questions that need to be answered.”
On the whole, there is now solid evidence showing a link between the consumption of any type of sugary drinks with adverse health outcomes. Limiting exposure until we know more about how they may impact people’s risks makes sense. While science continues to explore the connection, Americans are turning more and more to water and other non-calorie beverages such as tea, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, a data and consulting group. In 2016, bottled water surpassed carbonated soft drinks to become the number-one beverage by volume and has continued to dominate the market in 2017 and 2018. In 2018, Americans are projected to drink just over 3 billion gallons of diet sodas out of a total of 12.2 billion gallons of carbonated sodas produced.
The emerging research is an alert for all hard-core fans of diet drinks and anyone thinking of turning to them for weight loss. Also to parents who thought they were a great alternative to sugary drinks. With all the new data, one thing is clear- we should be drinking more water since unlimited amounts of sweetened beverages, even artificial ones, cause harm. Water offers all the benefits and none of the drawbacks.