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Sugary Drinks May Raise Diabetes Risk

Analysis Shows Link Between Sweetened Beverages and Risk of Diabetes
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 27, 2010 -- Drinking one or two sugar-sweetened beverages a day increases diabetes risk by 26%, a study shows.

In the new analysis, researchers pooled the findings of 11 previously published studies including more than 320,000 participants, attempting to assess the ''big picture."

"Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is certainly and consistently associated with an increased risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome," says researcher Vasanti Malik, ScD, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions including high blood pressure, elevated fasting blood sugar, high triglycerides, low HDL, and large waist size, increases the risk of developing diabetes.

The researchers took into account sugar-sweetened soft drinks, fruit drinks, iced tea, and energy and vitamin water drinks. Beverages that are 100% fruit juice without added sweeteners were not counted as sugar-sweetened beverages in the research.

The Big Picture

By pooling the results of previously published studies, Malik says, the researchers hoped to provide an overall picture of how great the risk is and how consistent the evidence. "We pooled all these studies and came up with one overall measure of association," she tells WebMD.

Habitual drinkers -- those drinking one to two sugar-sweetened beverages a day on average -- had a 26% increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and a 20% increased risk for developing metabolic syndrome compared to those who drank the beverages once a month or not at all, Malik says.

Eight of the studies looked at diabetes risk and three at metabolic syndrome risk. Participants in the diabetes studies totaled 310,819, with 15,043 cases of type 2 diabetes. In the metabolic syndrome studies, there were 19,431 participants and 5,803 cases of metabolic syndrome.

In the 11 studies, ages ranged from 21 to 84; the follow-up period ranged from four to 20 years.

Nearly 18 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association; most have type 2 diabetes, in which the body doesn't make enough of the hormone insulin or doesn't use it effectively. Insulin takes sugar from the blood to the cells.

The risk of developing type 2 diabetes varies from person to person, depending on such factors as family history, ethnicity, weight, and age.

The link between sugar-sweetened beverages and diabetes and metabolic syndrome risk can be partially explained by the weight gain that can result from drinking the sugar-sweetened beverages, which in turn boosts type 2 diabetes risk, the researchers say. The sugar-sweetened drinks can also raise blood sugar and insulin concentrations quickly, in turn leading to insulin resistance and and higher risk of diabetes, according to the researchers.

Industry Comment

The new analysis finds only correlations, not cause and effect, between sugar-sweetened beverages and diabetes, says Maureen Storey, PhD, senior vice president for science policy for the American Beverage Association, the trade association representing companies making non-alcoholic drinks.

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