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Soda-drinking men at higher risk for heart attack

Men who drink sugar-sweetened beverages, including sodas and non-carbonated fruit drinks, may have a higher risk of heart attack, a new study shows.

Harvard researchers found that men who drank one sugar-sweetened beverage per day had a 20 percent increased risk of heart attack compared to those who eschewed the sugary drinks, according to the study published in the journal Circulation.

And the risk rose with increasing consumption: Two sugary drinks a day was linked to a 42 percent increase in risk, while three was associated with a 69 percent increase.

The researchers also found that sugary drinks were associated with higher levels of inflammatory factors, such as CRP, that are thought to be involved in the development of heart disease.

The bottom line is that Americans need to pay more attention to what they’re drinking, said the study’s lead author, Lawrence de Koning, a research fellow in the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. “The first thing to do is to reduce the intake of sodas and then eventually eliminate them,” de Koning said.

Related story: 5 great reasons to kick the soda habit

The new research found no connection between artificially sweetened drinks -- in other words, diet sodas -- and heart disease risk. “But there are probably better choices, such as water, coffee and tea,” de Koning said. Besides, another recently published study did indeed find a link between a daily diet soda and heightened heart attack risks. 

This study adds to the accumulating evidence that sugary beverages hurt your health, said Dr. Y. Claire Wang, an assistant professor of health policy and management at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

The new report looked at data gathered as part of the Health Professionals Follow-up study, which has been gathering information on 42,883 men for the last 22 years. During that time there were 3,683 heart attacks in the men, some fatal and some not. And although this data set focused solely on men, past research has linked women's soda habits with heart disease, too. 

When de Koning and his colleagues looked at sugar-sweetened beverages, they found a strong correlation between sugary drinks and heart attack risk. And that link stayed strong even after the researchers accounted for factors such as smoking, physical activity, alcohol intake, vitamin use, family history and BMI. 

And while link doesn’t absolutely prove that sugary drinks increase the risk of heart disease, there is evidence from other studies showing that these beverages have an impact on risk factors, de Koning said. In one study, for example, volunteers who decreased sugary soda consumption experienced a reduction in blood pressure levels, he added.

“At the end of the day,” Wang said, “the best thing to drink is still water. 

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