People who drink one or more soft drinks a day have a more than 50 percent higher risk of developing the heart disease precursor metabolic syndrome than people who drink less than one soda a day, a new study has found, and it didn't matter if it was a regular soda or a diet soda.
Metabolic syndrome is a constellation of health problems - high waist circumference, high blood pressure, low levels of "good" cholesterol," and other health problems - that have been strongly linked to developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
The study, in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, looked at more than 6,000 healthy people, who showed no signs of metabolic syndrome, and then followed up. After four years, 53 percent of people who drank an average of one or more soft drinks per day developed metabolic syndrome. Those who drank one or more diet soft drinks a day were at a 44 percent higher risk.
"The point is that the risk is high no matter how many soft drinks one consumes and no matter what type of soft drink one consumes," said Dr. Ramachandran S. Vasan, associate professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and one of the study authors. "This adds to what we already know about how soft drinks may be associated with weight gain and metabolic risk."
The American Beverage Association took issue with the study, saying that the study proves no link between soft drinks and increased risk of heart disease.
The ABA added, "The assertions made could apply to any caloric product. If you over consume any food or beverage with calories, there are health consequences." ABA also said that it is "scientifically implausible" that diet soft drinks, which have no calories, cause weight gain or elevated blood pressure.
Study authors caution that they are not suggesting a direct link between soft drinks and heart disease. They stress that the association they found is between soft drinks and metabolic disease, and hesitate to speculate beyond that. They say more study is needed into why sodas are implicated in metabolic syndrome.
The American Heart Association responded to criticism of the study with a statement.
"It is important to note that the study does not show that soft drinks cause risk factors for heart disease. It does show that the people studied who drank soft drinks were more likely to develop risk factors for heart disease."
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