Researchers from New Zealand's University of Otago have uncovered evidence that sugar has a direct effect on risk factors for heart disease, and is likely to impact on blood pressure, independent of weight gain.
The team conducted a review of all international studies that compared the effects of higher versus lower added sugar consumption on blood pressure, blood triglycerides (fat) and blood cholesterol, important cardiovascular risk factors.
They located dietary trials published between 1965 and 2013, comparing diets where the only intended differences were the amount of sugars and non-sugar carbohydrates consumed by the participants, and which measured the effects of these diets on lipids and blood pressure. They found 37 trials reporting effects on lipids and 12 reporting effects on blood pressure. The findings from the individual trials were then pooled to determine the overall effects from all the studies.
The analysis confirmed that sugars contribute to cardiovascular risk, independent of the effect of sugars on body weight.
Although the effects of sugars on blood pressure and blood lipids are relatively modest, the findings support current public health recommendations to reduce added sugar as a means of reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The study findings suggest that our bodies handle sugar differently to other types of carbohydrates.
The researchers also found that if their analysis excluded the trials funded by the food/sugar industry, there were larger effects of sugar on blood lipids and blood pressure.
While there is still a need for further longer-term well-powered studies looking at the effects of sugars on various health outcomes, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the food industry to continue to claim that liberal sugar consumption is risk free.
Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2014.
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