Consuming Sugary Sodas And Artificially Sweetened Drinks Linked To 20% Higher Risk Of Atrial Fibrillation

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A recent study suggests that soft drinks containing sugar or artificial sweeteners may increase the risk of atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm disorder associated with blood clots and strokes.

In this study, researchers analyzed data from over 200,000 individuals with no prior history of atrial fibrillation, who completed detailed dietary questionnaires. They aimed to determine if the risk of developing atrial fibrillation varied based on consumption of sugary beverages, artificially sweetened drinks, or pure fruit juices.

After approximately a decade of follow-up, the researchers identified 9,362 cases of atrial fibrillation. According to the findings published in Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology, participants who consumed more than 2 liters of these beverages per week (equivalent to almost six cans of soda) were 20 percent more likely to develop atrial fibrillation compared to those who didn’t drink any sugary or artificially sweetened beverages.

Even when participants limited their intake of these beverages to a maximum of 2 liters per week, they still had a 10 percent higher risk of atrial fibrillation compared to non-consumers.

Possible Health Risks

Senior study author Ningjian Wang, MD, PhD, a researcher at the Shanghai Ninth People’s Hospital and Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine in Shanghai, China, said in a statement, “Based on these findings, we recommend that people reduce or even avoid artificially sweetened and sugar-sweetened beverages whenever possible.”

“Do not take it for granted that drinking low-sugar and low-calorie artificially sweetened beverages is healthy,” Dr. Wang added. “It may pose potential health risks.”

Atrial fibrillation is a heart rhythm disorder characterized by a fast, irregular heartbeat. Its symptoms may include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, confusion, and difficulties with physical activity. Although it can be controlled with medication and lifestyle adjustments, if untreated, it may result in complications such as blood clots, stroke, and heart failure.

Choosing Water or Occasional Pure Juice are Healthier Choices

According to the study results, individuals with a sweet tooth who aim to prevent atrial fibrillation may consider sticking to occasional servings of natural fruit juice. Consuming up to 1 liter of pure fruit juice per week was linked to an 8 percent lower risk of atrial fibrillation.

The study did not aim to establish a direct causative link between specific dietary habits and atrial fibrillation. Another limitation is that the analysis relied on participants’ self-reporting of their eating and drinking habits, which may not always be accurate.

Nevertheless, the findings provide valuable insight into the relationship between our beverage consumption and the risk of atrial fibrillation, as noted by Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD, a professor emeritus of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State University, who was not involved in the research.

“This is the first study to report an association between no- and low-calorie sweeteners and also sugar-sweetened beverages and increased risk of atrial fibrillation,” she said.

Dr. Kris-Etherton added that further research is necessary to confirm the link between sweetened beverages and all associated health consequences, including the risk of atrial fibrillation. She added, “In the meantime, water is the best choice, and, based on this study, no- and low-calorie sweetened beverages should be limited or avoided.”