Metabolic syndrome: Study links soft drink consumption with increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome

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July 25, 2007 by Scott P. Williams [1]

Boston, MA: You may want to think twice before reaching for that next soda. According to a study published July 23 in the Rapid Access section of Circulation, individuals who consume at least one soda per day are 48% more likely to suffer from metabolic syndrome than those who consume less than one soft drink per day, regardless of whether the drink is diet or regular.

The study tracked the soft drink consumption of 6039 patients from the Framingham Heart Study, all of whom were free of metabolic syndrome when the soda portion of the study began. The development of metabolic syndrome was determined by the presence of the following characteristics:

•waist circumference equal to or greater than 35 inches (women) or equal to or greater than 40 inches (men)

•fasting blood glucose equal to or greater than 100 mg/dL

•serum triglycerides equal to or greater than 150 mg/dL

•blood pressure equal to or greater than 135/85 mm Hg

•high-density lipoprotein cholesterol less than 40 mg/dL (men) or less than 50 mg/dL (women).

A patient was determined to have developed metabolic syndrome if he or she demonstrated three or more of these characteristics during a periodic examination between 1987 and 2001.

The study’s data demonstrates a positive correlation between all five characteristics and patients’ level of soft drink consumption. Patients who consumed at least one soda per day had a 25% to 32% higher adjusted risk of suffering from obesity, low HDL levels, glucose intolerance, and hypertriglyceridemia. Among the same set of patients there was a borderline significant 18% increase in the likelihood of developing high blood pressure.

The study’s authors offer physiological effects, dietary behavior, and economic choices as the three main explanations for the correlation between soft drink consumption and metabolic syndrome. Included in these explanations are the negative effects of consuming large amounts of nutritive sweeteners, the lower level of dietary compensation provided by liquids, and the possible increase in preference for sweetened items in general caused by the sweetness of soft drinks. Additionally, the authors note that patients who demonstrated high levels of soda consumption also tended to exercise less and have unhealthy dietary patterns. They speculate that these generally less healthy lifestyles could be associated with previously unaccounted for factors for the development of metabolic syndrome.

One limitation of the study is its use of the modified definition of metabolic syndrome recommended by the National Cholesterol Education Program, which is limited in its scope. The other main limitation is the use of only white American patients for the study.

Overall the study suggests that many Americans can decrease their risk of developing metabolic syndrome by reducing their consumption of soft drinks. The authors suggest that changes to public health policy regarding soft drink consumption could help lower the future medical burden represented by metabolic syndrome.

Funding for the study was provided the National Institutes of Health/National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and a career development award from the American Diabetes Association.

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