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Soft drinks may increase risk for an early death

Let’s not beat around the sugary bush – soft drinks are not good for health. Period. 

Initially, regularly knocking back liquid sweet stuff can result in energy and mood fluctuations, tooth decay, and disturbed sleep. 

Over time, the impacts are extensive and significant. Long term, regular drinking of the sweet stuff can contribute to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, cardiovascular diseases, excessive weight gain, cognitive decline, and more. 

In a recent population-based cohort study, researchers have also found an association for an increased risk of early death with sugary drink consumption.

The study
The researchers from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) gathered data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), assessing the dietary intake of 451,743 people from 10 countries throughout Europe, with an average age of around 51 years and 71% being women.1

Those with previously diagnosed conditions at baseline, such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer, were excluded from the analysis. Between initial recruitment and follow-up (on average, around 16 years), there were 41,693 deaths. 

The researchers found if an individual consumed two or more glasses of sugar-sweetened beverages a day, compared with those who drank less than one cup (250 ml) a month, they were at a 17% increased risk for early all-cause death. This is after accounting for other possible factors such as weight, physical activity, diet, education, and smoking. They also found a more specific association between sugar-sweetened soft drinks and deaths from digestive diseases. 

Go easy on the sugar substitutes
If you thought to swap out your Coke for Diet Coke was a good choice for health, think again.

This study also found as much risk for an early death consuming artificially sweetened beverages as the sugary drinks.

The findings revealed that drinking two or more glasses of artificially sweetened soft drinks may be associated with a higher risk of death from circulatory diseases.

“Two large studies in the US were published earlier this year, but this is the first large-scale European study to examine these relationships,” said corresponding study author, Neil Murphy to The American Journal of Managed Care. “We found that higher soft drinks intake was associated with a greater risk of death from all-causes regardless of whether sugar-sweetened or artificially sweetened drinks were consumed.” 

The risk may be irrespective of weight
Past research has correlated high soft drink consumption with various disease states, often via excessive weight gain. 

This study suggests weight doesn’t necessarily matter. Associations were found in those even of healthy weight. The authors suggest that this may be due to the impact sugary drinks have on blood glucose levels, which can lead to chronic inflammation and insulin resistance. (Neither of which are considered a good state of health.)

Other confounding factors addressed included age, smoking, and level of physical activity. 

“Other studies in the US have found similarly to us that higher consumers of soft drinks tended to be younger and current smokers,” said Murphy. “In contrast to these studies, we found that high soft drink consumers were more likely to be physically active.”

Kick the sweetened drinks
There are limitations to observational studies such as this, but evidence continues to mount against the case for sipping too much soft drink.

“We are unable to elucidate cause-effect relationships from our study due to its observational design,” Murphy says. “Our results do, however, provide additional support for the possible adverse health effects of sugar-sweetened soft drinks and to replace them with other healthier beverages, preferably water. For artificially-sweetened soft drinks, we now need a better understanding of the mechanisms that may underlie this association and research such as ours will hopefully stimulate these efforts.”

Looking for a healthy swap for that sweetened drink?

Try plain water or soda water (if you love the bubbles) with slices of lemon, apple or some berries, spruced up with freshly picked herb leaves such as mint or basil. It’s a drink that is genuinely good for you, and a good time. 

By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut Med.)

 

References

  1. Mullee A, Romaguera D, Pearson-Stuttard J, et al. Association between soft drink consumption and mortality in 10 European countries [published online September 3, 2019]. JAMA Intern Med.  doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.2478.
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