Drinking Fewer Sugar-Sweetened Beverages May Lower Blood Pressure

New American Heart Association research provides strong case for interventions to reduce sugar-sweetened beverage consumption

Results of an American Heart Association-funded study released today suggest that reducing sugar-sweetened beverages and sugar consumption may help lower blood pressure and further reduce other blood pressure-related diseases.

Gov. David Paterson has proposed a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in an effort to reduce consumption of these beverages.

"Research had previously indicated that high intake of added sugars, as opposed to naturally occurring sugars, is implicated in the rise in obesity, high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, other risk factors for heart disease and stroke," said Dr. Stephen Cook, New York State Advocacy Committee member of the American Heart Association and pediatrician at the Golisano Children's Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center. "As a pediatrician, I am deeply troubled by these new findings specific to sugar-sweetened beverages, and strongly encourage New Yorkers and their families to reduce their consumption."

The study, with Dr. Liwei Chen, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor at Louisiana State University Health Science Center School of Public Health in New Orleans, La., as lead author, was published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

According to Chen, the study potentially has important public health implications, because even small reductions in blood pressure are projected to have substantial health benefits on a population level.

"This research certainly sheds new light on the potential health benefit of the sugar-sweetened beverage tax proposal. Higher prices for sugar-sweetened beverages will help move us in the right direction by trimming our waistlines and beefing up funding for programs targeting obesity and heart disease," said Julianne Hart, New York State Advocacy Director for the American Heart Association.

Earlier this year, the American Heart Association developed guiding principles for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and is strongly encouraging state officials to incorporate this criteria in the sugar-sweetened beverage tax. The guiding principles were preceded by AHA's scientific statement on added sugars, released in August 2009, which noted soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages are the No. 1 source of added sugars in Americans' diet.

Most women should consume no more than 100 calories (about six teaspoons) of added sugars per day. One 12-ounce can of regular soda contains about 130 calories and eight teaspoons of sugar.

Highlights of Dr. Chen's study

Researchers used data on 810 adults, ages 25 to 79, with prehypertension (between 120/80 and 139/89 mm Hg) and stage I hypertension (between 140/90 and 159/99 mm Hg ) who participated in the PREMIER study, an 18-month behavioral intervention study with a focus on weight loss, exercise, and a healthy diet as a means to prevent and control high blood pressure.

At the start of the study, the participants drank an average 10.5 fluid ounces of SSB/day, equivalent to just under one serving. At the study's conclusion, average consumption had fallen by half a serving/day and both systolic blood pressure (the pressure when the heart beats), and diastolic blood pressure, (the pressure between beats), had declined significantly.

After controlling for known risk factors of blood pressure, the analysis found that a reduction of one serving/day of SSB was associated with a 1.8 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) drop in systolic pressure and a 1.1 mm Hg decline in diastolic pressure over 18 months. Researchers noted that this association was partially because of weight loss, but even after controlling for weight loss, the change in blood pressure was statistically significant.

Researchers say further study – particularly randomized controlled trials to establish any cause and effect relationship – is warranted.

About the American Heart Association

Founded in 1924, the American Heart Association today is the nation's oldest and largest voluntary health organization dedicated to building healthier lives, free of heart disease and stroke. These diseases, America's No. 1 and No. 3 killers, and all other cardiovascular disease, claim nearly 870,000 lives per year. In fiscal year 2006 -07 the association invested more than $554 million in research, professional and public education, advocacy and community service programs to help all Americans live longer, healthier lives. To learn more, call 1-800-AHA-USA1 or visit americanheart.org.