Could too much sugar be deadly? The biggest US study of its kind suggests
the answer is yes, at least when it comes to fatal
It doesn't take all that much extra sugar, hidden in many processed foods,
to substantially raise the risk, the researchers found, and most Americans eat
more than the safest amount.
Being in the highest risk category in the study means your chance of dying
prematurely from heart problems is nearly three times greater than for people
who eat only foods with little added sugar.
added sugars in diet threaten heart health
Increasing the risks
For someone who normally eats 2 000 calories daily, even consuming two
12-ounce (340-gram) cans of soda substantially increases the risk. For most
American adults, sodas and other sugary drinks are the main source of added
Lead author Quanhe Yang of the US Centres of Disease Control and Prevention
called the results sobering and said it's the first nationally representative
study to examine the issue.
Scientists aren't certain exactly how sugar may contribute to deadly heart
problems, but it has been shown to increase blood
pressure and levels of unhealthy cholesterol and triglycerides; and also
may increase signs of inflammation linked with heart disease, said Rachel
Johnson, head of the American Heart Association's nutrition committee and a
University of Vermont nutrition professor.
treatment for unhealthy lifestyles
Too much sugar makes us sick
Yang and colleagues analysed national health surveys between 1988 and 2010
that included questions about people's diets. The authors used national death
data to calculate risks of dying during 15 years of follow-up.
Overall, more than 30 000 American adults aged 44 on average were involved.
Previous studies have linked diets high in sugar with increased risks for
non-fatal heart problems, and with obesity, which can also lead to heart
trouble. But in the new study, obesity didn't explain the link between sugary
diets and death. That link was found even in normal-weight people who ate lots
of added sugar.
"Too much sugar does not just make us fat; it can also make us
sick," said Laura Schmidt, a health policy specialist at the University of
California, San Francisco. She wrote an editorial accompanying the study in
Monday's JAMA Internal Medicine.
The researchers focused on sugar added to processed foods or drinks, or
sprinkled in coffee or cereal. Even foods that don't taste sweet have added
sugar, including many brands of packaged bread, tomato sauce and salad
dressing. Naturally occurring sugar, in fruit and some other foods, wasn't
Most health experts agree that too much sugar isn't healthy, but there is no
universal consensus on how much is too much.
US government dietary guidelines issued in 2010 say "empty"
calories including those from added sugars should account for no more than 15%
of total daily calories.
The average number of daily calories from added sugar among US adults was
about 15% toward the end of the study, slightly lower than in previous years.
The authors divided participants into five categories based on sugar intake,
from less than 10% of daily calories the safest amount to more than 25%.
Most adults exceed the safest level; and for 1 in 10 adults, added sugar accounts
for at least 25% of daily calories, the researchers said.
The researchers had death data on almost 12 000 adults, including 831 who
died from heart disease during the 15-year follow-up. They took into account
other factors known to contribute to heart problems, including smoking,
and excess weight, and still found risks for sugar.
Calories add up quickly
As sugar intake increased, risks climb steeply.
Adults who got at least 25% of their calories from added sugar were almost
three times more likely to die of heart problems than those who consumed the
least less than 10%.
For those who got more than 15% or
the equivalent of about two cans of sugary soda out of 2 000 calories daily the
risk was almost 20% higher than the safest level.
Sugar calories quickly add up: One teaspoon has about 16 calories; one
12-ounce can of non-diet soda contains has about 9 teaspoons of sugar or about
140 calories; many cinnamon rolls have about 13 teaspoons of sugar; one scoop
of chocolate ice cream has about 5 teaspoons of sugar.
Dr Jonathan Purnell, a professor at Oregon Health & Science University's
Knight Cardiovascular Institute, said while the research doesn't prove
"sugar can cause you to die of a heart attack", it adds to a growing
body of circumstantial evidence suggesting that limiting sugar intake can lead
to healthier, longer lives.
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