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Sugar tied to fatal heart woes; soda's a culprit

By Lyndsey Tanner

AP Medical Writer

LAST UPDATED: 01:53 p.m. HST, Feb 03, 2014

CHICAGO » Could too much sugar be deadly? The biggest study of its kind suggests the answer is yes, at least when it comes to fatal heart problems.

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.

Having a cinnamon roll with your morning coffee, a super-sized sugary soda at lunch and a scoop of ice cream after dinner would put you in the highest risk category in the study. That 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.

For someone who normally eats 2,000 calories daily, even consuming two 12-ounce cans of soda substantially increases the risk. For most American adults, sodas and other sugary drinks are the main source of added sugar.

Lead author Quanhe Yang of the U.S. Centers 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.

Yang and colleagues analyzed 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 today'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 counted.

Most health experts agree that too much sugar isn't healthy, but there is no universal consensus on how much is too much.

U.S government dietary guidelines issued in 2010 say "empty" calories including those from added sugars should account for no more than 15 percent of total daily calories.

The average number of daily calories from added sugar among U.S. adults was about 15 percent 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 percent of daily calories — the safest amount — to more than 25 percent.

Most adults exceed the safest level; and for 1 in 10 adults, added sugar accounts for at least 25 percent 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, inactivity and excess weight, and still found risks for sugar.

As sugar intake increased, risks climbed steeply.

Adults who got at least 25 percent 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 percent.

For those who got more than 15 percent — or the equivalent of about two cans of sugary soda out of 2,000 calories daily — the risk was almost 20 percent 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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hanabatadayz wrote:
sugar is the worst thing you can put in your body..stop eating sugar for a couple months and i bet you'll drop 10 pounds without even trying
on February 3,2014 | 11:24AM
control wrote:
It's not just sugar but carbs in general....The folks who promote the Paleo Diet correctly note that we must eat protein and fats in order to survive, but we don't need to consume carbs. Our bodies can make carbs. Another study has shown that children with epilepsy often improve significantly just by eliminating carbs from their diet.
on February 3,2014 | 12:25PM
Heinbear wrote:
I stopped eating carbs 9 years ago, lost 60 pounds and have kept it off.
on February 3,2014 | 04:14PM
control wrote:
good for you. I'm real picky about what veggies I'll eat and they get pretty boring real fast. I'm having a harder time making the adjustment. One day at a time...
on February 3,2014 | 06:40PM
Grimbold wrote:
USA cookies , cakes , most chocolates, everything tastes disgustingly over-sweetened to me. It is an acquired taste promoted by the junk industries. Most Europeans who come here hate it.
on February 3,2014 | 06:24PM
ryan02 wrote:
First, I think processed sugar in ALL forms is bad, and should be minimized in our diets. However, I have an issue with this article (which I assume is only quoting the JAMA article) using the terms "sugar" to refer to the sweeteners found in soda and processed foods. They are almost invariably sweetened with HFCS, which the FDA does NOT allow to be called "corn sugar" (which the manufacturers requested). I don't like the blurring of lines between real sugar and HFCS. Sure, real sugar may cause the exact same heart problems as HFCS -- but shouldn't real sugar actually be tested before they say that? The point is, this study was based on sodas and other processed foods which contain HFCS, and it may or may not implicate sugar (cane and beet) as well, but I think the article should be clearer on what kind of sweeteners were actually studied.
on February 3,2014 | 12:19PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
If any type of sugar really did cause heart failure, there would a lot more deaths related to heart failure. These "scientists" are really reaching here. I can see sugar causing obesity, which in turn can cause heart problems for many people but to say 2 sodas a day will increase your risk of heart failure by 20% sounds like BS.
on February 3,2014 | 02:09PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
so 2 sodas a day increases your risk of dying from heart failure by 20%? Sounds like alarmist BS to me, if this were true deaths from heart failure would be much greater than we have now. The study doesn't appear to be too scientific at all if it's based on health surveys that people fill out themselves. These people are looking for a link between sugar and death ... and trying real hard to find one.
on February 3,2014 | 02:04PM
awahana wrote:
This is old news. Decades old.
Best way to keep abreast of this stuff.
vsh.org and nutritionfacts.org
on February 3,2014 | 08:32PM
Sophia1Israel wrote:
our body needs "sugar" (glucose) for the energy the body use to face the day. whether we drink it or eat it, our body still makes it when it is needed, so consuming extra "sugar" (in all forms: fructose, galactose, glucose, etc), is the basis of disease by generating free radicals (unstable end products of glucose metabolism) that are the primary cause of inflammation. high intake of unneeded sugar leads to elevated inflammation (due to the presence of free radicals), leads to instability of our arterial linings, the endothelium, which then makes it easier for bad cholesterol (low density lipoproteins or LDL) to infiltrates our arterial linings (endothelium) thus leading to plagues formation which when disrupted, can induce clot formation, blocking blood flow to any parts of our body downstream (in the brain is a stroke or cerebrovascular accident, CVA; in the heart is a myocardial infarction, aka: heart attack, or MI, etc.! this article mentioned mostly added sugars, but such process food as flour products is one of the main culprit.
on February 3,2014 | 09:11PM
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