Sugary soft drinks associated with increased heart disease risk in women

Conventional nutritional wisdom dictates that heart disease risk can be influenced through our intake of fat. Specifically, saturated fat (found in foods such as meat, dairy products, eggs and coconut) promotes heart disease, while certain foods (for example, omega-3 fats found in oily fish) do the reverse. I do think there’s a good deal of evidence linking omega-3 fats with benefits for heart health, but don’t believe that there is good evidence that saturated causes heart disease. Whatever the truth of the matter is, the point is that in discussions of the effect of diet on heart disease, the focus here is very much on fat.

However, in recent years there has been growing interest in the role that carbohydrate might have on risk of heart disease and stroke (cardiovascular disease). Last year I blogged about a specific study which linked the consumption of certain carbohydrates with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Specifically, the problem foods here seem to be those that are most disruptive of blood sugar and hormones such as insulin (high glycaemic index/high glycaemic load foods). Through their ability to cause spikes in blood sugar, these foods can induce changes in the biochemistry of the body that would be expected to enhance cardiovascular disease risk such as increased ‘oxidative stress’ (free radical damage), inflammation, protein glycation (glucose ‘bonding’ to proteins in the body and damaging them) and coagulation (essentially, making the blood ‘stickier’ and more likely to clot).

Carbohydrates may also contribute to cardiovascular disease risk through their potential ability to cause weight gain (particularly around the abdomen) and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. One type of carbohydrate-rich foodstuff that has been the subject of research focusing on weight and type 2 diabetes are sugary soft drinks. They can contribute to the glycaemic load of the diet too, which as mentioned above, may contribute to cardiovascular disease through a variety of mechanisms.

In a recent study, the relationship between sugary soft drink consumption and risk of heart disease was assessed in a group of more than 85,000 women monitored over a 24-year period [1]. The researchers accounted for so-called confounding factors including age, smoking habits, family history of heart disease, and blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The effort here was to help ensure that any relationship between heart disease and sugary soft drink consumption is likely to be due to the soft drink, and not factors associated with soft drink consumption.

What this study found was that compared to women drinking less than one soft drink per month, those drinking 1 soft drink and 2 or more soft drinks a day were at a 23 and 35 per cent increased risk of heart diseased respectively. The enhanced risk was statistically significant.

This study adds to the considerable body of evidence linking the consumption of certain carbohydrates and an increased risk of chronic disease. And it also might cause us to remember that while fat consumption may affect heart disease risk, this appears to be true for carbohydrate too.


1. Fung TT, et al. Sweetened beverage consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in women. Am J Clin Nutr (February 11, 2009). doi:10.3945/ajcn.2008.27140

6 Responses to Sugary soft drinks associated with increased heart disease risk in women

  1. Chris 24 February 2009 at 4:06 pm #

    Hi John,
    I’m with you on this one!

    It is recorded in the scriptures (with which I am not overly familiar) that Jesus fed the 5000 on loaves AND fishes.
    Did Jesus and/or his contemporaries possess knowledge that our modern, overpopulated, and largely industrialised world is overlooking?

    I imagine that civilisations of 2000 – 4000 years knew better than to poop in the drinking water. Yet, 150 years ago in the rapidly industrialising squalor and human misery of Victorian London the human dynamic overlooked such basic advice and sank cesspits close to wells supplying drinking water. The Victorians had focused upon the achievements of their age. (Which are many)
    A physician of the day, John Snow traced one outbreak of disease in Soho to the Broad Street pump and removed the handle, thus disconnecting the origin of the outbreak from the local residents. A pub built on the site of the original pump takes it’s name in memory of John Snow. There is a symbolic memorial pump nearby.
    The marvel was that John Snow traced the outbreak with powers of deduction and applied, what we have come to regard as, common sense. Unwittingly, John Snow founded the valuable discipline now called epidemiology.

    Man is distinguished from other creatures by his adaptability and the extent to which he changes his own habitat. The disease and misery of Victorian London was largely arising from the ‘habitat’ that man had shaped for himself; his physiological adaptability was put to the test.

    It is easy to be wise after the event.
    Is it asking too much of the human dynamic to be wise earlier on in a crisis?

  2. Trinkwasser 25 February 2009 at 8:23 pm #

    My soundbyte: excess BODY fat is dangerous. Excess BLOOD fat (lipids) are dangerous. Excess CARBS are dangerous because they are the source of the above fats. See any farmer for details of how to fatten (other) animals. Dietary fat is NOT dangerous, except in the presence of the excess carbs. Plenty of anecdotal evidence supports this, and not a few studies agree. The killer (literally) is the temporal association between increased cardiovascular disease (including Type 2 diabetes) and obesity alongside the Heart Healthy Low Fat diet. In only another decade or two perhaps The Authorities will catch on.

  3. Ted Hutchinson 27 February 2009 at 2:00 am #

    Endocrine and metabolic effects of consuming fructose- and glucose-sweetened beverages with meals in obese men and women: Influence of insulin resistance on plasma triglyceride responses
    In obese subjects, consumption of fructose-sweetened beverages with meals was associated with less insulin secretion, blunted diurnal leptin profiles and increased postprandial TG concentrations compared with glucose consumption. Increases of TG were augmented in obese subjects with insulin resistance, suggesting that fructose consumption may exacerbate an already adverse metabolic profile present in many obese subjects.

    I am not suggesting that sweet drinks (sweetened with sugar) are good for you. Simply they may be marginally less destructive than HFCS that produces leptin resistance.

    Higher leptin levels reduce the efficiency of you Vitamin d hormone system.

  4. Carlos Monteiro 27 February 2009 at 9:15 pm #

    Stress situations and ingestion of fructose and other sugars may elevate blood lactic acid that has a role in the development of atherosclerosis according the acidity theory (1)

    1. Monteiro CETB, Acidic environment evoked by chronic stress: A novel mechanism to explain atherogenesis. Available from Infarct Combat Project, January 28, 2008 at

  5. Hilda Glickman 1 March 2009 at 1:13 am #

    These drinks can also contain high levels of phosphoric acid which can lead to osteoporosis. It may be that the phenylalanine makes them addictive which they seem to be.
    Hilda Glickman Nutritionist, Pinner

  6. solomon Nuhu 30 October 2009 at 3:08 pm #

    appreciate the comment of Chris my equation is what is the range of carbohydrate in human body? if say to much of it courses diabetes, and also taking soft drink cause long term liver damage associated with high sugar that content glucose and a normal percentage is about 90Mn/dl or 5mnM/mol and science fund that people who drank a liter of high sugar fizzy drinks or fresh fruit juice each day were five times more likely to develop fatty liver disease. that to show 80 percent of those who had consumed high sugar fizzy drink and fruit juice had fatty liver changes, while only 17 percent of the control group are few who had not been drinking sugar or carbohydrate develop fatty liver. i come I cross that this situation as a result of consumption of high level of glucose. i hope that you put into consideration thanks.

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