Sugary or Diet Sodas Could Raise Your Odds for A-fib

By   |  March 5, 2024

By Dennis Thompson HealthDay Reporter  |  Copyright © 2024 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, March 5, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- Sipping sodas – sugary or diet – seems to slightly increase a person’s risk of developing a potentially dangerous irregular heart rhythm, a new study shows.

Folks had a 20% greater risk of atrial fibrillation if they drank two liters or more of artificially sweetened beverages each week, researchers reported March 5 in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology.

Two liters of sugar-sweetened beverages came with a 10% higher risk of a-fib. Meanwhile, consuming one liter of unsweetened fruit or vegetable juice every week conferred an 8% lowered risk.

“Our study's findings cannot definitively conclude that one beverage poses more health risk than another due to the complexity of our diets and because some people may drink more than one type of beverage,” said lead author Dr. Ningjian Wang, a researcher at the Shanghai Ninth People's Hospital and Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine in Shanghai.

“However, based on these findings, we recommend that people reduce or even avoid artificially sweetened and sugar-sweetened beverages whenever possible,” Wang added in a journal news release. “Do not take it for granted that drinking low-sugar and low-calorie artificially sweetened beverages is healthy. It may pose potential health risks.”

For the study, researchers reviewed dietary and genetic data for more than 200,000 adults who enrolled in the UK Biobank long-term health study between 2006 and 2010.

None had a-fib at the time they signed up for the UK study, but during a nearly 10-year follow-up period almost 9,400 cases of irregular heart rhythm developed among the participants.

A-fib involves quivering or irregular contractions in the upper chambers of the heart, called the atria. The condition increases risk of stroke, as it allows blood to pool and potentially clot inside the heart. About 15% to 20% of people who suffer strokes have a-fib, the American Heart Association says.

Smoking also appeared to add to a-fib risk. Smokers who drank more than two liters a week of sugary beverages had a 31% higher increased risk, compared to no significant increase for former smokers or never-smokers.

However, genetics appeared to play no part in the association between a-fib risk and consumption of these beverages, researchers said.

It’s not clear why this link appears to exist between sweetened beverages and a-fib risk, Wang said.

The drinks might increase a person’s insulin resistance, which would raise their risk of developing type 2 diabetes, Wang said, and diabetes has been associated with a-fib.

The risk also might be caused by some particular body response to artificial sweeteners like those found in Splenda, SweetNLow and Equal, Wang said.

American Heart Association nutrition committee member Penny Kris-Etherton, an emeritus professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State University, said the findings on artificially sweetened beverages are surprising, “given that two liters of artificially sweetened beverages a week is equivalent to about one 12-ounce diet soda a day.”

Both the American Heart Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have called for people to minimize consumption of sugary drinks, researchers said in background notes.

However, both organizations say there’s unclear evidence of the health affects that might come from consuming artificial sweeteners.

“We still need more research on these beverages to confirm these findings and to fully understand all the health consequences on heart disease and other health conditions,” Kris-Etherton noted. “In the meantime, water is the best choice, and, based on this study, no- and low-calorie sweetened beverages should be limited or avoided.”

More information

The American Heart Association has more about atrial fibrillation.

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, March 5, 2024