The study, published in medical journal Heart, surveyed more than 42,000 Swedish males aged between 45 and 79, who were asked over a period of 12 years how frequently they consumed specific foods and drinks.
The researchers found that men who drank at least two sweetened drinks a day were 23% more likely to have reported suffering heart failure.
An unhelpful focus on the ingredient
But Maureen Talbot, the British Heart Foundation’s senior cardiac nurse, said the study’s findings do not provide conclusive evidence of the connection.
“As the authors of the study themselves highlight, more research is needed across a broader population before we can apply the findings fully,” she said.
“The most common cause for someone to experience heart failure is a heart attack due to coronary heart disease. However, obesity is a risk factor for coronary heart disease, and consuming a diet high in sugar is linked to an excess of energy, which in turn is associated with weight gain.”
Talbot backed the British Heart Foundation’s call for the British government to introduce a sugary drinks tax.
Gavin Partington, the British Soft Drinks Association’s director general, said that no definitive conclusions can be drawn about a direct cause and effect relationship can be drawn from the study.
“Key risk factors for heart failure include high blood pressure which is a consequence of an overall unhealthy diet and lack of exercise,” he said.
“The persistent focus on a single ingredient or product is neither helpful to consumers nor based on evidence of the importance of a balanced diet overall.”
Salt diet can drive thirst
Prof. Francesco Cappuccio, professor of cardiovascular medicine & epidemiology at the University of Warwick, said that although he does not find the results surprising, the study has limitations, including the fact that it was observational and therefore unable to prove a cause-effect relationship.
“An important observation in this study is that sweetened drink consumption was inversely related to socio-economic status, i.e. more consumption in less educated participants,” he added.
“An alternative explanation not discussed in the paper is that high salt intake - salt intake is higher in low socio-economic groups - increases thirst, hence increased drinking, including sweetened drinks.
“The increase in heart failure could therefore be a consequence of higher salt intake, higher blood pressure and higher heart failure risk.”
The study drew its findings for incidences of heart failure through a link with the Swedish National Patient Register and the Cause of Death Register. Cox regression analyses were implemented to investigate the association between sweetened beverage consumption and heart failure.
During a mean follow-up time of 11.7 years, a total of 4113 heart failure events were identified.
The research team said it observed a positive association between sweetened beverage consumption and risk of heart failure after adjustment for other risk factors.
Heart failure occurs when the heart’s capacity to pump blood around the body is significantly reduced.
The most common cause is damaged heart muscle, which can result from a heart attack. High blood pressure and diseases of the heart muscle are other potential causes of the condition.
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1136/heartjnl-2015-307542
“The relationship between sweetened beverage consumption and risk of heart failure in men”
Authors: Iffat Rahman, Alicja Wolk and Susanna C Larsson