Excessive consumption of added sugars in drinks, snacks and sweets is associated with an increased risk of dying from heart disease, according to a major US review published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
The review, which looked at the sugar consumption habits of nearly 43,000 adult participants in a national health survey, found “a significant relationship between added sugar consumption and increased risk for CVD [cardiovascular disease] mortality”.
Dr Quanhe Yang of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and colleagues found that regularly consuming as little as one sugary fizzy drink a day was associated with an increased risk of death from heart disease. The results suggested that CVD mortality risk increased exponentially the greater the amount of sugar consumed on a regular basis.
“Our results support current recommendations to limit the intake of calories from added sugars,” they wrote.
This is not the first time that high sugar consumption has been linked to heart disease risk, but the researchers said that few studies had examined sugar consumption in connection with heart disease mortality.
The World Health Organisation recommends that fewer than 10% of a person’s daily calories should come from added sugars, but most people in Europe and the United States exceed that amount.
In this study, those who consumed 10% to 25% of calories from added sugars had a 30% higher risk of dying from heart disease compared to those whose sugar calorie consumption was less than 10% of total calories. Those for whom added sugars accounted for more than a quarter of calories – about 10% of the study sample – were nearly three times as likely to die as a result of heart disease.
A total of 71.4% of participants consumed more than 10% of their calories from added sugars.
Commenting on the study, professor of metabolic medicine at the BHF Glasgow Cardiovascular Research Centre, Professor Naveed Sattar, said that observational studies can never prove that sugar consumption causes heart attacks.
“However, to ignore the mounting evidence for the adverse health effects of excess sugar intake would seem unwise,” he said. “Helping individuals cut not only their excessive fat intake, but also refined sugar intake, could have major health benefits including lessening obesity and heart attacks.”
“…We have known for years about the dangers of excess saturated fat intake, an observation which led the food industry to replace unhealthy fats with presumed ‘healthier’ sugars in many food products. However, the present study, perhaps more strongly than previous ones, suggests that those whose diet is high in added sugars may also have an increased risk of heart attack.”
In this latest study, sugar-sweetened beverages provided the largest amount of added sugar in participants’ diets, at 37.1%, followed by grain-based desserts at 13.7%, juice drinks (8.9%), dairy desserts (6.1%) and confectionery (5.8%).
Sattar added: “The first target, now taken up by an increasing number of countries, is to tax sugar rich drinks. Whilst this may seem a blunt instrument, the food and drink industry are able to make positive changes in their food formulations and still remain very profitable. Ultimately, there needs to be a refocus to develop foods which not only limit saturated fat intake but simultaneously limit refined sugar content.”
Source: JAMA Internal Medicine
Published online ahead of print. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13563
“Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality among US Adults”
Authors: Quanhe Yang; Zefeng Zhang; Edward W. Gregg; W. Dana Flanders; Robert Merritt; Frank B. Hu.