How Do Sweetened Beverages Affect Cholesterol Levels And Heart Health?
A new study suggests that adults who drink at least one sweetened beverage may have dyslipidemia, or higher levels of unhealthy fats (such as LDL cholesterol and triglycerides), as well as an increased risk of heart disease, compared to adults who do not drink sweetened beverages.
“Dyslipidemia is defined as cholesterol levels outside the normal range, and there are several types. The most worrisome is high LDL or bad cholesterol,” says Mark Peterman, MD, an interventional cardiologist at Texas Health Plano.
High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease
Nearly one-third of U.S. adults have high cholesterol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
High cholesterol is a reliable source of increased risk for heart disease and stroke, the two leading causes of death in the United States.
Study participants were from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS), a long-running study designed to discover common factors that contribute to heart disease.
Data from an average of 12 years of approximately 6,000 people of European descent over middle age were analyzed.
The study was recently published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
“There is great interest in how consumption of different types of beverages contributes to changes in blood lipids. Other observational studies have shown that increased consumption of sweetened beverages is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease,” Daniel Haslam, the study’s first author, told Healthline.
The study focused on sweetened beverages and low-calorie alternatives.
The researchers considered other factors that affect cholesterol and triglyceride levels, including obesity, general diet quality, physical activity, alcohol consumption and use of cholesterol-lowering medications.
A questionnaire was used to determine the types of beverages the participants consumed and the frequency of consumption. Beverages were divided into two categories: sweetened beverages (SSB), such as sugary soft drinks and fruit drinks, and low-calorie sweetened beverages (LCSB), such as sugar substitute diet soft drinks (diet sodas).
Calorie intake was very similar for all participants, and choice of beverage (sweetened or low-calorie) was the most easily identifiable factor.
“Overall, the results are not surprising, but it is important that we are able to conduct further studies. The available evidence for an association between sweetened beverages and dyslipidemia comes from small studies, so this study only provides insight into diet and lipid levels over time,” said study author Nicola McKeon, PhD, of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research on Aging at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. The center’s nutritional epidemiologist says.
Sugar-sweetened drinks worsen cholesterol levels over time
Researchers found that middle-aged and older adults who regularly drank sweetened beverages were more likely to have abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels than those who rarely drank these beverages.
“In this study, we found that consumption of BSS was also associated with an increased risk of developing dyslipidemia and adverse changes in triglyceride and HDL cholesterol-related lipoprotein levels,” McKeown said.
Sugar-sweetened beverage drinkers had a 98 percent additional chance of developing low HDL (good) cholesterol and a 53 percent additional chance of developing high triglycerides, according to the study.
“Cholesterol is one of the most important risk factors for atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke. It is very important to manage cholesterol and it is essential to monitor it at least once a year to keep it under control,” Peterman said.
Sugar is bad for your health
The study also showed that HDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels worsened over time in people who drank sweetened beverages daily compared to those who rarely drank sweetened beverages.
“Sugar intake and diabetes play an important role in cholesterol levels.”
He explained that the term “metabolic syndrome” encompasses a wide range of problems related to abnormalities in cholesterol, weight and diabetes.
“This study shows that eating too much sugar can have a negative impact on cholesterol levels,” Peterman said.
Cholesterol, HDL and LDL
There are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
HDL is considered “good” cholesterol because it helps eliminate LDL cholesterol, the type that builds up in our arteries and increases our risk of heart disease.
“HDL” is most closely associated with exercise and fitness. Traditionally, regular exercise is the best way to raise HDL, so lifestyle is very important,” Peterman explains.
If you have high LDL levels and low HDL levels in your blood, you’re at risk for atherosclerosis, a condition in which excess plaque clogs arteries, causing them to become thicker and harder. Inadequate blood supply to the heart can lead to cardiovascular disease.
According to Harvard Medical School, HDL also alters the chemical composition of LDL, preventing oxidation, which reduces inflammation and prevents artery damage.
However, it’s not that simple.
HDL may only be a marker or indicator of our cholesterol levels, rather than having a significant impact on our bodies.
Currently, the American Heart Association (AHA) does not recommend specific ranges for HDL and LDL cholesterol.
Instead, the AHA says to look at cholesterol as part of your overall heart health.
Again, the “normal range” is less important than your overall cardiovascular risk; with HDL and LDL cholesterol levels, your total blood cholesterol level should be considered among your other known risk factors,” the AHA writes.
Lifestyle factors that reduce risk
Peterman emphasizes that “lowering cholesterol, in general, is multifaceted,” and that weight control and proper exercise are important to achieve this goal.
He adds that dietary changes, such as adopting a Mediterranean diet (more fish, less red meat, fewer carbohydrates, and olive oil instead of animal fat), can provide tremendous benefits.
However, carbohydrates remain an important factor.
“Metabolic syndrome is a term that encompasses all of these things – abnormal cholesterol, weight, diabetes – and they’re all linked,” Peterman says.
“This study shows that too much sugar can negatively affect cholesterol levels,” he says.
The new study suggests that not only do sweetened beverages raise cholesterol levels, they may also reduce the amount of HDL (good) cholesterol in the body. This, in turn, increases our risk of cardiovascular disease.
According to experts, sugar intake has a big impact on our cholesterol levels. Following a Mediterranean diet, getting enough exercise and having your cholesterol levels checked at least once a year are all recommended as effective ways to maintain cardiovascular health.