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Too much sugar will kill your heart

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published an article on Feb. 3, 2014 titled Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults. While sugar consumption has been directly linked to diabetes, cancer and obesity, this is the first quantitative link between sugar and death from cardiovascular disease (CVD). Sugar consumption as a percentage of total calories has doubled since 1986 in the US.

Heart disease is linked to sugar
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The research was done at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with the following major contributors: Quanhe Yang, PhD1; Zefeng Zhang, MD, PhD1; Edward W. Gregg, PhD2; W. Dana Flanders, MD, ScD3; Robert Merritt, MA1; Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD4,5

Conclusions and Relevance Most US adults consume more added sugar than is recommended for a healthy diet. We observed a significant relationship between added sugar consumption and increased risk for CVD mortality.”

This was an extensive study that followed strict CDC protocols. The study extended over nearly 15 years and involved 831 CVD deaths. The normalized risk factor from dying of heart disease was set at 1.00 for those consuming less than 10% of their diet from added sugar. Participants that consumed from 10 to 24.9% had a risk factor of 1.30 for dying from heart disease. Participants that consumed over 25% of their calories from added sugar had a 2.75 risk factor for death from heart disease compared to those that had 10% or less of their calories from added sugar.

These findings were largely consistent across age group, sex, race/ethnicity (except among non-Hispanic blacks), educational attainment, physical activity, health eating index, and body mass index. Given mortality rates among black men and women for heart disease and diabetes, sugar creates a higher risk factor in this group.

If you read the labels on the foods and drinks that you are about to purchase, you will often see high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or sugar as the first ingredient. When it was shown that total fat and saturated fat were major issues with heart disease, food manufacturers took out the fat and added more sugar. Since HFCS is cheaper than other sugars, HFCS is now found in things like horseradish sauce at a major fast food chain.

The bottom line conclusions are summarized in a companion article, New Unsweetened Truths About Sugar, published Feb. 3, 2014 in the JAMA. Laura A. Schmidt, PhD, MSW, MPH is the author.

“The new paradigm views sugar overconsumption as an independent risk factor in CVD as well as many other chronic diseases, including diabetes mellitus, liver cirrhosis, and dementia—all linked to metabolic perturbations involving dyslipidemia, hypertension, and insulin resistance. The new paradigm hypothesizes that sugar has adverse health effects above any purported role as “empty calories” promoting obesity. Too much sugar does not just make us fat; it can also make us sick.”

If you want to live longer, eat wisely, avoid sugar, get more exercise and relax. If you want to avoid excess sugar, you need to take responsibility for what you eat and drink. Cook your own food. Drink water or unsweetened teas. Read the labels of the foods you are buying. Avoid processed foods and fast foods.