Drinking two or more sugary sodas or sports drinks a day linked with early death — especially in women

How sweet it isn’t — drinking sugary drinks has been associated with a greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease, especially among women, according to a new report from the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation.

What’s more, while swapping out one sugar-sweetened beverage a day, such as a soda or a sports drink, with an artificially-sweetened drink (using low-calorie or noncaloric sweeteners like Stevia, Splenda or NutraSweet) was associated with a slightly lower mortality risk, sipping too many artificial sweeteners gets risky too. Drinking four or more of those artificially-sweetened drinks was linked to a greater risk of death among women.

Previous studies have found a correlation between sweetened soft drinks and weight gain, as well as between sugary beverages and health problems related to weight gain, such as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. A pair of reports drawn from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS) at Boston University Medical Center in 2017 linked sipping sugary drinks with poor memory and smaller brain volume — and a daily diet-soda habit was linked to a much higher risk of suffering stroke and dementia.

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But the new report by the American Heart Association and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed data from two large, longitudinal studies to determine whether guzzling sugar-sweetened beverages or artificially-sweetened beverages would be worse for life expectancy. Researchers studied 37,716 men in the Health Professionals follow-up study (which began in 1986) and 80,647 women in a Nurses’ Health Study (which began in 1976), controlling for other dietary factors, physical activity and body mass index (BMI).

Those who drank two or more sugary drinks a day were associated with a 31% increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and an 18% increased risk of cancer death in both men and women, compared to those who drank less than one sugar sweetened beverage a month. But when sorted by gender, the syrupy sips appeared especially harmful for women: Those who had more than two a day (with a serving defined as a standard glass, bottle or can) saw a 63% increased risk of early death, while men who did the same saw a 29% increase in risk. Cardiovascular disease was the leading cause of premature death, followed by cancer (primarily colon and breast cancer).

“Drinking water in place of sugary drinks is a healthy choice that could contribute to longevity,” said Vasanti Malik, lead author on the paper, in a statement. “Diet soda may be used to help frequent consumers of sugary drinks cut back their consumption, but water is the best and healthiest choice.”

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Drinking a typical 12-ounce can of soda adds between 140 and 150 calories on average, and 35 to 37.5 grams of sugar, the American Heart Association noted, naming sweetened drinks as the biggest source of added sugar in the average American’s diet.

But even replacing those drinks with low- or no-calorie drinks flavored with artificial sweeteners should be done in moderation. While replacing one sugar-sweetened beverage with one artificially-sweetened drink a day was associated with a 4% lower risk of overall mortality (and a 5% lower risk of cardiovascular disease death, and a 4% lower risk of cancer death), women who drank four or more artificially sweetened drinks a day, in particular, were associated with a higher risk of death.

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