For many of us, our high blood pressure is a result of our lifestyle choices. Recent research has confirmed that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is in some respects as bad for us as drinking alcohol. Carbonated soft drinks have been under suspicion for a while, but it now seems that all sugar-sweetened soft drinks contribute to hypertension. How bad for us are these drinks?
The findings of a study of more than 2,500 people by UK and US researchers and published the journal “Hypertension”, suggest that blood pressure is increased incrementally for every 355ml can of sugary drink consumed per day.
For the study, the participants who were aged 40 to 59 from the UK and the US were asked to record what they had eaten in the preceding 24 hours on four separate occasions. They also provided a urine sample and had their blood pressure measured. The researchers found that:
- sugar intake was highest in those consuming more than one sugar-sweetened beverage daily.
- individuals consuming more than one serving per day of sugar-sweetened beverages consumed more calories than those who didn’t consume sugary drinks – around 397 extra calories a day.
- for every extra can of sugary drink consumed per day, participants on average had a higher systolic blood pressure by 1.6mmHg and a higher diastolic blood pressure by 0.8mmHg.
Overall, the people who consumed a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages had less healthy diets and were more likely to be overweight. Nevertheless, the link with blood pressure was still significant even after adjusting for factors such as weight and height.
The precise mechanism behind the link is unclear, but scientists believe too much sugar in the blood disrupts blood vessel tone and salt levels in the body. Non-sugar sweetened diet drinks did not carry the same risk.
Hypertension is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Someone with a blood pressure level of 135mmHg over 85mmHg is twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke as someone with a reading of 115mmHg over 75mmHg.
The study also found that the link between sugar-sweeened drinks and higher blood pressure was especially strong in people who consumed a lot of salt as well as sugar. Excess salt in the diet is already a known to contribute to hypertension.
How much is it safe to drink?
There are guidelines issued for the consumption of alcohol. As yet there are none for sugar-sweetened soft drinks. However, The American Heart Association recommends that people should drink no more than three 355ml cans of soda a week. The British Heart Foundation advises that it is best to avoid too many sugary drinks because they add extra calories to our diets that can lead to obesity, a major risk factor for heart disease and high blood pressure.
The British Soft Drinks Association say soft drinks are safe to drink but, like all food and drink, should be consumed in moderation as part of a healthy balanced diet.
It seems that both sides of this developing debate are, at present, saying the same thing. That is, consuming sugar-sweetened soft drinks in moderation as part of a healthy balanced diet is not harmful. What is clear is that it is time to make a small adjustment to our lifestyles by limiting our consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to no more than three small cans a week if we are to avoid increasing our already high blood pressure.
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