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.
For the animal study, Australian researchers divided mice into three groups. The first ate a normal diet, the second a high-fat diet, and the third a high-fat diet that contained a large amount of chlorogenic acid (CGA), a type of antioxidant found in coffee. Over the span of 12 weeks, the critters that ate the high-fat diet with CGA stored more fat and experienced increased glucose sensitivity and insulin resistance, precursors to type 2 diabetes, compared to the mice who ate a high-fat diet without the coffee compound. The results came as a surprise to researchers.
“Our hypothesis was that the coffee compound would reduce weight gain and improve insulin sensitivity,” says study co-author Kevin D. Croft, PhD, of The University of Western Australia School of Medicine and Pharmacology. ”Clearly this is not the case.”
Don’t break things off with Joe just yet, though. The mice in the study consumed doses of CGA equivalent to drinking five or six cups of coffee per day, says Croft. Previous research has shown that consuming CGA in moderation can reduce blood pressure, increase insulin resistance, and—here’s the kicker—even prevent weight gain. While researchers are unsure why the opposite is true at high doses, they believe that excessive CGA intake may hinder the body’s ability to process and use fat.
To reap coffee’s health benefits without increasing your poundage, limit yourself to three or four cups of coffee a day, says Croft. Keep in mind, though, that a cup is eight ounces. Suck down a Trenta from Starbucks, and you’ve already hit your max for the day.
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