Just two cans of sugary drink increases risk of type 2 diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on September 29, 2015

Regularly drinking sugary drinks can lead to weight gain and a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, scientists have confirmed.

They are now calling for urgent action regarding public health strategies to reduce the consumption of drinks containing high fructose corn syrup and ordinary table sugar.

softdrinkAccording to their scientific paper published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, there is compelling evidence of the link with just two cans a day resulting in a 26% higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

The research, described as the most comprehensive review of the evidence on the health effects of sugar sweetened drinks to date, also takes a closer look at the unique role fructose may play in the development of these conditions.

“Since we rarely consume fructose in isolation, the major source of fructose in the diet comes from fructose containing sugars, sucrose and high fructose corn syrup, in sugar sweetened beverages,” said Frank Hu, Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and lead investigator of the paper. “Our findings underscore the urgent need for public health strategies that reduce the consumption of these drinks.”

Sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup, produced from corn starch, have been widely used in the US as a low cost alternative to sucrose in foods and beverages. While the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages has decreased moderately in the past decade, they are still the single greatest source of added sugar intake in the US diet.

In fact, half of the US population consumes these types of drinks every day, with one in four getting at least 200 calories per day from them and 5% consuming more than 500 calories per day, which is the equivalent of four cans.

“This is particularly concerning as the research shows that consuming one or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day has been linked to greater weight gain and obesity in numerous published studies,” said Hu. “Regular consumption of sugar sweetened beverages can lead to weight gain because the liquid calories are not filling, and so people don’t reduce their food intake at subsequent meals.”

The paper, which reviewed data from recent epidemiological studies and meta-analyses of these studies, reveals that consuming one or two servings a day has been linked to up to a 26% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

It is also linked to a 35% greater risk of heart attack or fatal heart disease, and a 16% increased risk of stroke. The research team also explored how fructose is metabolised in the body and its link to weight gain and the development of metabolic and cardiovascular conditions.

“Part of the problem is how fructose behaves in the body,” says Hu.

Glucose, another component of sugar, is readily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract into the bloodstream where it is transported through the action of insulin into the body’s cells to be used as fuel.

Fructose, on the other hand, is metabolised in the liver where it can be converted to fatty compounds called triglycerides, which may lead to fatty liver disease and insulin resistance, a key risk factor for developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Overconsumption of fructose can also lead to too much uric acid in the blood, which is associated with a greater risk of gout, a painful inflammatory arthritis.

The researchers point out that since fructose and glucose typically travel together in sugar sweetened beverages and foods, it is important to reduce total amounts of added sugars, especially in the form of sugar sweetened drinks.

They outline a number of alternatives to sugar sweetened drinks that include water, coffee, and tea. Hu says that while artificially sweetened drinks may be preferable to sugary drinks in the short term, further studies are needed to evaluate their long term health effects.

Hu also said that additional research is needed to explore the health effects of different types of sugars and how liquid compared with other forms of sugar affect the body. However, he says there is sufficient evidence to support the need for more aggressive public policy interventions to help reduce consumption of sugar sweetened drinks.

“Although reducing the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages or added sugar alone is unlikely to solve the obesity epidemic entirely, limiting intake is one simple change that will have a measurable impact on weight control and prevention of cardio-metabolic diseases,” Hu added.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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