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Research casts doubt on sugary drinks links to high blood pressure

By Nathan Gray , 07-Jun-2012
Last updated on 07-Jun-2012 at 17:39 GMT

Research casts doubt on sugary drinks links to high blood pressure

The link between sugary drinks and high blood pressure has been cast into doubt after new research revealed sweet drinks are associated with high blood pressure – regardless of whether they are sweetened with sugar or artificial agents.

Sodas and carbonated beverages have been linked with an increased risk of developing high blood pressure (hypertension) – with many previous studies suggesting the increased risk is a result of the sugars that such drinks contain. But now a new large scale study has cast doubt on this theory, after finding that the sugar content of a drink does not affect the risk of developing hypertension.

The study – published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine – uses data from over 200,000 to reveal that regularly consuming drinks sweetened by either sugars or artificially sweeteners, is associated with a 13% increased risk of developing high blood pressure.

The finding that both sugary and artificially sweetened drinks increased the risk for hypertension calls into question the previous work linking sugars such as fructose to the increased risk, say the researchers – meaning that there is likely to be another culprit behind the increased risk.
“Sugar sweetened beverages and artificially sweetened beverages are independently associated with an increased risk of incident hypertension after controlling for multiple potential confounders,” revealed the authors – led by Lisa Cohen from the University of Maryland Medical Center, USA.

“These associations may be mediated by factors common to both sugar sweetened beverages and artificially sweetened … but are unlikely to be due to fructose,” they added.

Study details

Cohen and her colleagues looked at data from three large-scale studies, including nearly 224,000 healthcare workers, whose diet and health were tracked for 16 to 38 years.

No participants had diagnosed high blood pressure at the beginning of the study period.

Over time, those who drank at least one sugar-sweetened beverage a day had a 13% increased risk of hypertension, compared to those who only had a sweet drink once a month or less.

Similarly, people who drank at least one artificially-sweetened drink a day had a 14% increased risk of developing hypertension relative to those who had little or none.

New ideas

“It is tempting to hypothesize that an ingredient common to both sugary and diet beverages could be responsible for the increased risk of new-onset hypertension seen in serving of a non-carbonated beverage,” said the researchers – however they noted that many studies have discounted a role for many of the other ingredients, for example dissolved carbon dioxide.

“One could postulate that either the cola itself, the caramel coloring used to darken cola drinks, or the increased phosphate load, could mediate this observation, although no mechanisms for such effects have been proposed,” said Cohen and her team.

The US-based researchers added that another “potential explanation” for the similar relations of sugar-sweetened and artificially-sweetened drinks with hypertension risk is that both are associated with the development of metabolic derangements that in turn might lead to elevated blood pressure – or that both ingredients separately lead to increased risks.

For example, the team suggested that another explanation could be that sugar does increase the risk of high blood pressure, but that artificial sweeteners (such as aspartame and saccharine) have similar effects on hypertension.

Source: Journal of General Internal Medicine
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1007/s11606-012-2069-6
“Association of Sweetened Beverage Intake with Incident Hypertension”
Authors : L. Cohen, G. Curhan, J. Forman

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