Women who drink a lot of sodas, sweetened juices and other sugary drinks are at greater risk of developing heart disease, a new study finds.
Those who drink one or more a day have nearly a 20% higher risk than women who never do. And it's not just soda that's problematic: Fruit drinks with added sugars are also a culprit, researchers say.
Though the study does not prove cause and effect, researchers suspect there are several reasons sugar can increase heart disease risk, according to lead author Cheryl Anderson, interim chair of Family and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego.
"It raises glucose levels and insulin concentrations in the blood, which may increase appetite and lead to obesity, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease," she said in a news release from the Journal of the American Heart Association, where the study was published May 13.
"In addition, too much sugar in the blood is associated with oxidative stress and inflammation, insulin resistance, unhealthy cholesterol profiles and type 2 diabetes, conditions that are strongly linked to the development of atherosclerosis, the slow narrowing of the arteries that underlies most cardiovascular disease," Anderson noted.
More than 100,000 female teachers in California took part in the study.
Those who drank one or more sugary drinks a day were 26% more likely to need surgery such as angioplasty to restore blood flow and 21% more likely to have a stroke, compared with women who rarely or never drank sugary beverages.
Differences were also found in the type of drinks consumed.
Those who drank one or more sugar-sweetened fruit drinks a day had a 42% higher risk of heart disease than women who seldom or never consumed sugary beverages. Those who drank sweetened soda every day had a 23% higher risk of heart disease.
Women who consumed the most sugar-sweetened drinks were more likely to be younger, smokers, obese and less likely have a healthy diet, the researchers found.
Diet soda is sometimes seen as an alternative for people trying to cut back on sugary drinks. But diet drinks contains artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, aspartame, sucralose and others that also have been associated with health risks.
Water is the most accessible and healthy drink, according to the American Heart Association. It has no sugar, no artificial sweeteners and no calories.
For more information about sugary drinks, visit the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.