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How Do Sugary Drinks Affect Your Heart Health and Cholesterol Levels?

It was always known that sugary drinks are bad for your health. When we say sugary beverages, we include soft drinks or sugar-sweetened beverages. Any beverage containing added sugar or other sweeteners such as fruit juice concentrates, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, and many more are referred to as sugary drinks. These include soda, cola, tonic, pop, lemonade, fruit punch, energy, and sports drinks, and even sweetened powdered beverages. These beverages are known to be one of the single biggest sources of added sugar and calories. The consumption of sugar drinks is rising dramatically in the world, and as a result, we are also seeing a dramatic increase in lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and others. While the adverse effects of consuming sugary drinks are known, new research has now shown that sugary drinks can affect your heart and cholesterol levels as well. Read on to find out how do sugary drinks affect your heart health and cholesterol levels.

Harmful Effects of Drinking Too Many Sugary Drinks

Harmful Effects of Drinking Too Many Sugary Drinks

Sugary beverages have today become the single biggest source of added sugar and calories in the standard American diet. (1,2) Worldwide as well, especially in developing countries, it is being seen that the consumption of sugary drinks is increasing dramatically because of rapidly growing urbanization and beverage marketing. (3) It is believed that there are approximately 4.2 spoons of sugar in a single standard teaspoon. One typical can of soda is known to contain nearly 7 to 10 teaspoons full of sugar. (4)

Even if you leave sodas aside and consider energy drinks, they also have just as much sugar as soft drinks. At the same time, there is enough amount of caffeine present in these drinks to significantly increase your blood pressure. These beverages also include additives and preservatives whose long-term health effects still remain unknown.

Sugary drinks are not only rich in calories but also contain virtually no nutrients. You may find that if you drink too much of sugary beverages, you do not feel as full as you would if you eat solid food with the same amount of calories. (5) Sugary drinks do not make you feel full, but definitely make you gain weight. A study found that people who drank a lot of sugary sodas in addition to a proper diet ended up consuming 17 percent more calories than before. (6)

Sugary drinks are also responsible for the global obesity epidemic. There is sufficient evidence to show that reducing the consumption of sugary beverages will decrease the prevalence of obesity and obesity-related diseases. (7)

These beverages also drastically boost the buildup of belly fat, lead to insulin resistance, is one of the leading causes of type 2 diabetes, and may even cause leptin resistance. Leptin is a hormone in the body’s fat cells that controls the number of calories that you eat and burn. (8,9)

Now new research indicates that adults who consume at least one sugary beverage every day, as compared to those who don’t, have a much higher risk of developing dyslipidemia, which is a condition marked by high levels of unhealthy fats like triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol).

Dyslipidemia is known to increase the risk of developing heart disease. Let’s take a look.

How Do Sugary Drinks Affect Your Heart Health and Cholesterol Levels?

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that nearly one-third of US adults have high cholesterol levels. (10) Having high levels of cholesterol puts you at a significantly higher risk for stroke and heart disease, which are also two of the leading causes of death in the world. (11)

The participants of this new study were taken from another long-lasting research known as the Framingham Heart Study (FHS), which focused on finding out the common factors that increase the risk of heart disease. (12)

The new research has been recently published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. It includes data from over 6,000 participants, middle-aged or older people, who were of European descent and lasted for 12 years. (13)

The researchers conducted the study with the intention of finding out how the consumption of different types of beverages contributed to changes in blood lipids in the participants. They had evidence from other observational studies as well that indicated that a higher intake of sugary drinks was linked to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

The researchers also adjusted for any other factors that could have a possible effect on cholesterol and triglyceride levels, such as overall quality of diet, obesity, level of physical activity, alcohol intake, and whether the participants were already taking cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Questionnaires were used to determine what beverages the participants consumed and how regularly they had the said beverages. The study authors further separated the drinks into two segments:

  1. Low-calorie sweetened beverages such as diet carbonated drinks that contain sugar substitutes – for example, diet sodas
  2. Sugar-sweetened beverages such as full-sugar carbonated drinks and fruit drinks

All the study participants had more or less similar calorie intake so that the choice of beverage became the most identifiable factor.
The researchers found that older and middle-aged adults who consumed sugary drinks daily were at the highest risk of developing abnormal triglyceride and cholesterol levels as compared to those adults who rarely drank sugary beverages.

The study showed that the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages was associated with a higher risk of developing dyslipidemia.

Simultaneously, there were negative changes in the body’s lipoprotein concentrations related to triglycerides and HDL (good) cholesterol.

Regular sugar beverage consumers had a whopping 98 percent higher chance of developing low HDL cholesterol, and a 53 percent higher risk of developing high levels of triglycerides.

Cholesterol is known to be one of the most potent risk factors for developing heart-related problems such as atherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke. This is why successful management of cholesterol is very important, along with getting an annual checkup done to determine your overall health. (14,15)


The findings of this study clearly establish the risk associated with a regular intake of sugary beverages. Not only can these beverages reduce the levels of HDL cholesterol, but they also increase the levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. Sugar intake also has a direct association with developing diabetes, which again is another risk factor for developing heart disease. Sugar intake has a significant influence on our cholesterol levels. This is why it is recommended that having a healthy heart diet such as the Mediterranean diet, getting regular exercise, and having your cholesterol levels tested once in a year are all ways in which you can maintain good heart health.


  1. Hu, F.B. and Malik, V.S., 2010. Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes: epidemiologic evidence. Physiology & behavior, 100(1), pp.47-54.
  2. Riskfactor.cancer.gov. 2020. Top Food Sources Of Dietary Components | EGRP/DCCPS/NCI/NIH. [online] Available at: <http://riskfactor.cancer.gov/diet/foodsources/added_sugars/> [Accessed 22 August 2020].
  3. Malik, V.S., Willett, W.C. and Hu, F.B., 2013. Global obesity: trends, risk factors and policy implications. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 9(1), pp.13-27.
  4. The Nutrition Source. 2020. How Sweet Is It?. [online] Available at: <https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks/sugary-drinks/how-sweet-is-it/> [Accessed 22 August 2020].
  5. Pan, A. and Hu, F.B., 2011. Effects of carbohydrates on satiety: differences between liquid and solid food. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, 14(4), pp.385-390.
  6. DiMeglio, D.P. and Mattes, R.D., 2000. Liquid versus solid carbohydrate: effects on food intake and body weight. International journal of obesity, 24(6), pp.794-800.
  7. Hu, F.B., 2013. Resolved: there is sufficient scientific evidence that decreasing sugar‐sweetened beverage consumption will reduce the prevalence of obesity and obesity‐related diseases. Obesity reviews, 14(8), pp.606-619.
  8. Margetic, S., Gazzola, C., Pegg, G.G. and Hill, R.A., 2002. Leptin: a review of its peripheral actions and interactions. International journal of obesity, 26(11), pp.1407-1433.
  9. Friedman, J.M. and Halaas, J.L., 1998. Leptin and the regulation of body weight in mammals. Nature, 395(6704), pp.763-770.
  10. Cdc.gov. 2020. Cholesterol Information | Cdc.Gov. [online] Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/index.htm> [Accessed 22 August 2020].
  11. Peters, S.A., Singhateh, Y., Mackay, D., Huxley, R.R. and Woodward, M., 2016. Total cholesterol as a risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke in women compared with men: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Atherosclerosis, 248, pp.123-131.
  12. Framinghamheartstudy.org. 2020. Framingham Heart Study. [online] Available at: <https://www.framinghamheartstudy.org/> [Accessed 22 August 2020].
  13. Haslam, D.E., Peloso, G.M., Herman, M.A., Dupuis, J., Lichtenstein, A.H., Smith, C.E. and McKeown, N.M., 2020. Beverage consumption and longitudinal changes in lipoprotein concentrations and incident dyslipidemia in US adults: The Framingham Heart Study. Journal of the American Heart Association, 9(5), p.e014083.
  14. Asia Pacific Cohort Studies Collaboration, 2003. Cholesterol, coronary heart disease, and stroke in the Asia Pacific region. International journal of epidemiology, 32(4), pp.563-572.
  15. Law, M.R., Wald, N.J. and Rudnicka, A.R., 2003. Quantifying effect of statins on low density lipoprotein cholesterol, ischaemic heart disease, and stroke: systematic review and meta-analysis. Bmj, 326(7404), p.1423.

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Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:November 18, 2020

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