March 12, 2012 -- Just one sugar-sweetened drink a day may be enough to raise a man’s risk for heart disease, a new study suggests.
Men who drank just one sugary drink a day had a 20% higher risk of heart disease than did non-drinkers, says researcher Frank Hu, MD, PhD, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.
"This study provides strong evidence that higher consumption of sugary beverages is an important risk factor for heart disease," he says. "Even moderate consumption -- one soda per day -- is associated with a 20% [increased] risk."
Hu's team followed nearly 43,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Previously, they conducted a similar study with women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study. In that study, they also found a link between sugar-sweetened drinks and heart disease.
"In this one we tried to replicate the results in men," he tells WebMD. The results are very consistent, he says. "That is really enhancing the validity of the findings."
The team found a link, but that does not prove cause and effect.
The study is published in the journal Circulation.
The Sugar Association, an industry group, took exception with the findings, stressing that sugar is not the main culprit, but lifestyle. So did the American Beverage Association.
Sugar-Sweetened Drinks and Heart Disease: Study Details
Hu and his teams asked the men, aged 40 to 75 when the study started, to report their beverage-drinking habits. From January 1986 through December 2008, the men reported on their diet and other health habits every two years.
They provided a blood sample about halfway through the study.
The researchers followed the men for 22 years. They looked to see who had heart disease. In the study, heart disease was defined as a heart attack, fatal or not.
During that time, there were 3,683 heart attacks.
Next, the researchers divided the men into four groups, depending on their sugar-sweetened drink habits. Such drinks included sodas, carbonated non-colas, fruit punches, lemonade, and other non-carbonated fruit drinks. The sugar-sweetened drinks studied did not include 100% fruit juices. The drinking habit groups were:
No sugar-sweetened drinks
Twice a month
One to three times a week
Nearly four times a week to nine per day -- an average of about 6.5 a week. (Half drank more, half less.)
Those in the last group were considered the daily drinkers.
Those in the daily group were 20% more likely to wind up with a heart attack than the non-drinkers, Hu found.
This was true even after accounting for other factors, such as age, smoking, exercise, alcohol drinks, diet quality, weight, and family history of heart disease.
They looked at the blood samples. Men who drank sugar-sweetened drinks daily had higher indicators for heart disease than the non-drinkers did.
Those who had a daily sugar-sweetened drink had higher levels of blood fats called triglycerides, a risk factor for heart disease. They had lower levels of HDL or "good" cholesterol, another risk factor.