A review of studies indicated that regular consumption of sugary beverages, such as juice and soda, raised the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and other health maladies.

These effects stem from the link between the drinks and metabolic syndrome, which is a group of risk factors that elevate the chances of incurring stroke, heart disease and diabetes, according to the Hormone Health Network.

The message is to be careful regarding the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages taken in and to be mindful of sugar content.- M. Faadiel Essop, Stellenbosch University

The risk factors include decreased high-density lipoproteins (HDL) or good cholesterol, an expanded waistline, high levels of blood fat called triglycerides, high-fasting blood sugar and elevated blood pressure.

“Sugar-sweetened beverage consumption is steadily rising among all age groups worldwide,” said the review’s senior author, M. Faadiel Essop, of Stellenbosch University in Stellenbosch, South Africa, in a press release. “Our analysis revealed that most epidemiological studies strongly show that frequent intake of these beverages contributes to the onset of the metabolic syndrome, diabetes and hypertension.”

Metabolic syndrome and diabetes are responsible for 19 million deaths each year, reports the World Health Association (WHO). Therefore, because of the association of sugar consumption to these conditions, the public should take steps to reduce the intake of this food that is ubiquitous in the western diet.

In the review published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society, the authors examined 36 studies that dealt with the effects of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption on the cardiovascular system and sugar metabolism. All of the studies were conducted within the past decade.

While some studies didn’t support the connection to metabolic syndrome, most of them did. Many of the studies involved participants who drank more than five sugary beverages per week.

The most surprising findings involved the small amount of consumption tied to adverse health effects. Studies that explored the tie between diet and diabetes found two servings per week were linked to a higher rate of diabetes.

In an interview with Olive Oil Times, Essop said, “I would interpret the results on consuming two servings per week with caution. There are several limitations in the study e.g. issue of confounding factors and self-assessments (in some cases) of the participants. Another point to consider is that relative risk does not prove causality. For the latter, one would need to prove causality by randomized control trials.”

The exact amount of sugar intake that increases the risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome isn’t known at this point. Nonetheless, medical experts are united in their belief that consuming large amounts of sugar poses a threat to health. How much sugar intake per day is considered too much? Essop provides some guidance below.

“Our preclinical studies (unpublished) show that relatively moderate sugary beverage intake does not elicit diabetes. However, this does not detract from the bigger picture that excess sugar intake is harmful. The WHO recommends no more than 9 teaspoons per day for men and 6 teaspoons per day for women.

“This is an issue to focus upon, as a typical sugar-sweetened beverage like a can of Coca-Cola would contain around 9 teaspoons of sugar. Even of more concern, a Starbucks Frappuccino would contain 18 teaspoons of sugar! So the message is to be careful regarding the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages taken in and to be mindful of sugar content.

“Prolonged intake of higher amounts of sugar can contribute to diabetes onset with time. Of note, lowering sugar-sweetened beverage and sugar intake should form part of a multi-pronged approach to living healthier that includes increased exercise, a balanced diet and lower stress levels.”

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