Researchers Show Link Between Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Health Problems

Researchers in South Africa have shown that regularly drinking sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) contributes to the development of diabetes, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and other endemic health problems, according to a review recently published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society.

The review’s authors, led by M. Faadiel Essop, PhD, of Stellenbosch University in Stellenbosch, South Africa, point out that in 2011, the United Nations announced for the first time that noncommunicable diseases pose a greater health risk than infectious diseases in both developed and developing countries and that a five-year, South African Adult Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiology cohort study showed an association between higher consumption of added sugars and sucrose-sweetened beverages with increased noncommunicable disease risk factors. “Sugar-sweetened beverage consumption is steadily rising among all age groups worldwide,” says Essop. “Our analysis revealed that most epidemiological studies strongly show that frequent intake of these beverages contributes to the onset of the metabolic syndrome, diabetes and hypertension.”

The authors reviewed 36 studies on the cardiometabolic effects of SSB consumption from the past decade. Since some recent studies reached conflicting findings regarding the relationship between beverage consumption and health conditions such as diabetes and heart diseases, the researchers critically assessed the research landscape for overall trends. Although there were some studies with negative or neutral findings, most of the studies supported a link between SSB consumption and the risk of developing the metabolic syndrome. “After careful examination of the available clinical studies, it is clear that SSB consumption does trigger metabolic perturbations together with the development of obesity,” the authors write.

Studies on diet and diabetes revealed that consuming as few as two servings of SSBs a week was linked to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Several of the analyzed studies found drinking at least one sugar-sweetened beverage a day was associated with elevated blood pressure. “Together these data highlight the need for (1) well-designed basic and clinical studies to obtain a clearer picture, (2) further research into the molecular mechanisms underlying the development of such debilitating conditions, and (3) increased roll-out of educational programs to inform the general public of the harmful effects of high SSB intake,” the authors conclude. “The findings demonstrate there is a clear need for public education about the harmful effects of excess consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages,” Essop says. “But our understanding of this topic would benefit from additional research to further clarify how sugar-sweetened beverages affect our health. We do see some limitations in the current research on this topic, including a need for longer-term studies and standardized research methods.”