For Better Health, Nix the Sugary Drinks

Sugar-sweetened beverages may increase visceral fat, heart disease and diabetes risk

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh

(RxWiki News) That daily dose of sugary soda may be a real downer for many people's health.

A new study found a link between sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) intake and visceral fat. Having a lot of visceral fat may increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

"There is evidence linking sugar-sweetened beverages with cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes," said lead study author Caroline S. Fox, MD, MPH, a former investigator with the Framingham Heart Study of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), in a press release.

Visceral fat — also known as deep fat — wraps around internal organs like the liver, pancreas and intestines. This type of fat has been found to affect hormonal function, said Betsy Carlisle, PharmD, CDE, a clinical pharmacy specialist for Seton Medical Center Hays, in an interview with RxWiki News.

"High sugar-containing beverages cause a spike in blood sugar and insulin levels, which signals the body to store fat in the intra-abdominal area," Dr. Carlisle said. "An increase in intra-abdominal or visceral fat, over time, results in insulin-resistance and reduced capacity of the pancreas to effectively lower blood sugar levels, leading to type 2 diabetes."

Dr. Carlisle, who manages an inpatient diabetes consult service and was not involved with the current study, added, "A diet high in sugar that results in weight gain, especially increased belly fat, has been associated with high blood pressure, high triglycerides, gout and heart disease."

Visceral fat may also increase insulin resistance, which makes body cells less responsive to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar. Increased insulin resistance has been implicated in heart disease and diabetes risk.

Dr. Fox, who is currently a special volunteer with the National Institutes of Health, and colleagues reviewed data on food surveys answered by 1,003 study patients. The average age of the group was 45, and around half were women. The study patients also completed CT scans to measure body fat.

In addition to sodas and soft drinks, SSBs in this study included fruit juice, lemonade and other non-carbonated drinks, such as sweetened iced tea.

Dr. Fox and colleagues split the study patients into four groups: non-drinkers, occasional drinkers, frequent drinkers and daily drinkers. Intake among the drinkers ranged from less than one SSB a week to at least one SSB a day. These researchers followed the study patients for six years.

Compared to those who didn't drink SSBs, the daily SSB drinkers saw much greater increases in visceral fat over the study period.

"Our message to consumers is to follow the current dietary guidelines and to be mindful of how much sugar-sweetened beverages they drink," Dr. Fox said. "To policy makers, this study adds another piece of evidence to the growing body of research suggesting sugar-sweetened beverages may be harmful to our health."

This study was published Jan. 11 in the journal Circulation.

The Framingham Heart Study of the NHLBI and Boston University School of Medicine funded this research. Dr. Fox and team disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 12, 2016
Last Updated:
January 14, 2016