Doing THIS Could Cause Heart Problems

You know soda isn’t good for your waistline, but new research shows it’s not too sweet on your heart, either. Drinking excessive amounts of soda can cause irregular heart function and even death, according to a new study presented at the European Heart Rhythm Association meeting in Athens.

The finding comes after a 31-year-old woman from Monaco went to the hospital suffering from irregular heartbeats and fainting. It turns out that the only thing she drank for 16 years was soda; she put away about two liters of the sugary stuff a day. Researchers examined six other case studies of excessive soda drinkers and found their habits had all resulted in irregular heart function, erratic heartbeats, and, in the case of one patient, death.

The Scary Cause
Researchers believe that drinking too much soda can lower the body’s potassium levels. High fructose corn syrup and caffeine, both key ingredients in many sodas, are diuretics. So when you consume too much of them, they can lead to excessive urine production and diarrhea that flush potassium from the body, says study author Nadir Saoudi, MD, chief of cardiology at the Princesse Grace Medical Centre in Monaco. Caffeine may also keep the kidneys, which regulate potassium levels, from properly doing their job.

Since potassium helps the heart maintain a regular beat, deficiencies can cause irregularities. Low potassium levels also make extreme soda drinkers prone to deteriorated skeletal muscles, says Saoudi. Once broken down, components of those muscle tissues flow though the bloodstream and can throw off electrolyte balances, leading to further heart problems.

Why Diet Soda Isn’t the Answer
Caffeine-free diet soda drinkers aren’t off the hook, either. While these drinks don’t contain corn syrup or caffeine, drinking diet soda is correlated with weight gain and obesity, which are major risk factors for heart problems, says Saoudi. Plus, previous research from the University of Miami shows that people who down diet drinks on a daily basis are 43 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke than those who don’t drink them.

How Much Is Too Much?
Researchers haven’t yet determined how much soda is too much when it comes to your heart, but for now, they recommend no more than one 16-ounce bottle a day. Drink more than that? It’s not too late to squelch your soda habit. Even if you’ve downed soda exclusively for years, your potassium levels and markers for normal heart function can improve in as little as one week, says Saoudi. However, if your potassium levels are already low (the case for 98 percent of Americans, according to the CDC), you should probably drink even less soda than the recommended daily limit of one 16-ounce bottle a day.

Saoudi recommends sticking with water and eating several servings of potassium-rich produce a day—especially if you insist on indulging your soda habit. Sweet potatoes, beet greens, tomatoes and—of course—bananas are all good sources of the nutrient.

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock
More from Women’s Health:

Sugary Sodas Increase Diabetes Risk
Tips to Make Your Heart Healthier
Heart-Healthy Recipes

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Do Artificial Sweeteners Really Cause Diabetes?

Diet sips and snacks may not be as healthy as you think, according to new research published in the journal Diabetes Care. Sucralose, one of the most popular artificial sweeteners on the market, may cause a spike in insulin secretion, finds a team of researchers at Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Since artificial sweeteners are often marketed as weight-loss aids, researchers chose to study the effects of sucralose on 17 obese, diabetes-free adults who rarely consumed sugar substitutes. In one session of the small clinical trial, participants were instructed to drink either water or a dose of liquid sucralose (about the amount in a 12-ounce can of diet soda) before taking a 75-gram serving of glucose (as if they were consuming the drink with food). As a control, the team repeated the experiment a week later with the same group, but doled out water to the participants who’d had sucralose in the initial test and vice versa.

When insulin levels were measured 90 minutes later, the participants who had consumed the sucralose had insulin concentrations 20 percent higher than those who had sipped water. Researchers also noted that the blood sugar of people who’d had the sucralose-spiked drinks peaked at a higher level than it did in those who didn’t have the sweetener.

Although a surge of insulin is a healthy response to a sugar rush, repeatedly flooding your body with sugar could lead to insulin insensitivity. Normally, the pancreas will bump insulin production to compensate for cells’ blunted response to insulin’s regulation of glucose, fatty acids, and amino acids, but if left unchecked, the concentration of sugar and fatty acids in the blood will build up and could lead to type 2 diabetes.

Since the clinical trial only tested the effects of sucralose in a small group of adults during two sessions, researchers say additional studies need to be carried out to figure out whether or not artificial sweeteners actually pose a health risk—so they caution against jumping to conclusions. “To say that sucralose causes diabetes is stretching our study results too much,” says lead study author Yanina Pepino, PhD, research assistant professor of medicine at Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis. “It’s not exactly what we measured.”

Still, it’s clear that sucking down zero-calorie fizzy drinks with a meal affects your body in ways the ultimate diet drink—water—does not, she says. Although it’s not yet clear how the human body detects artificial sweeteners, Pepino says previous studies in animals suggest taste receptors in the gastrointestinal tract and pancreas prompt the body to react as it would to sugar.

So what’s a girl to do? “As a dietitian, my two cents would be that everything should be taken in moderation,” says Gina Crome, RD, founder of Lifestyle Management Solutions. “That includes artificial sweeteners.” Crome recommends keeping soda consumption to two or fewer servings per day, regardless of the sugar content.

For a worry-free beverage, jazz up a glass of seltzer or tap water with lemon or lime wedges, berries, crushed herbs, or sliced ginger.

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

More from Women’s Health:
“What’ll It Be, Sugar?”
Dump Your Artificial Sweeteners and Sugar
Curb Your Sweet Tooth

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Does IVF Cause Birth Defects?

For women who consider in vitro fertilization to become pregnant, new information might make them reconsider their options. But that’s not necessarily the right move.

First, the troubling data: An infant born as the result of (IVF) is 1.25 times more likely to have birth defects than a naturally conceived baby with similar maternal characteristics, according to an analysis presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition. IVF infants were particularly likely to have birth defects of the eye, heart, reproductive organs, and urinary systems.

In IVF, a woman takes hormones to stimulate her ovaries to release multiple eggs, which are fertilized in a lab and then transferred back into the uterus.

The analysis compared infants born following the use of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), which includes all fertility treatments in which both eggs and sperm are handled, versus infants who were conceived naturally. In vitro fertilization is the most common form of ART. Other fertility treatments, such as artificial insemination or ovulation induction, were analyzed separately and were not associated with increased risk of birth defects.

But before you rule out IVF altogether, take a pause. An increased risk of birth defects sounds scary, but researchers stressed that association does not equal causation. “Our results do not prove that ART causes birth defects,” says study author Lorraine Kelley-Quon, M.D., surgery resident at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, who conducted the research at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. Rather, she says, the analysis highlights “an interesting association” between IVF and birth defects, which is supported by research from Europe and Australia.

So why does this association exist? Experts aren’t entirely sure. Kelley-Quon says that study only examined whether a mother received ART therapy or not; researchers did not track how many treatments she had, her age at the time of ART, or other factors which may be related to overall risk of birth defects. In short: further research is needed.

Before you get really freaked out, Kelley-Quon shared a bit of encouragement. “Couples considering ART should be reassured that there are tens of thousands of infants born after ART each year that are perfectly healthy,” she says. “The results of our study show a small but significant increase in risk for infants born after ART that is in addition to the known maternal risk factors present in many women seeking treatment.”

How small of an increase? Nine percent of babies born after IVF had birth defects (about 1 in 15), versus 6.6% of infants conceived naturally (1 in 11).

“The overall goal of our research is to enable couples considering ART to fully understand the potential risks associated with the procedure so that they can make an informed decision with their physician,” she says.

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

More from WH:
Is IVF Dangerous?
Advice for Getting Pregnant
Infertility in Men: Are His Swimmers Stuck?

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