Slanted soda slamming.

by Denis Faye - The Nutrition Nerd | May 25, 2010

I’m all about crackin’ the whip on sodas and other sugary drinks, but I’m not a fan of twisting science to suit one’s agenda, so while this new study appearing in the journal Circulation supposedly showing a direct link between soda and high blood pressure is fine, I’m a little tweaked about how the press is covering it. From WebMD:

The new study involved 810 adults aged 25 to 79 with prehypertension or early stage 1 hypertension who were taking part in an 18-month study designed to prevent or reduce high blood pressure with weight loss, exercise, and diet.

Most people in the study drank an average of 10.5 fluid ounces of sugar or high fructose corn syrup-sweetened beverages a day including non-diet soft drinks, fruit drinks, lemonade, and fruit punch when the study began.

Halving their soda intake resulted in a 1.8 point reduction in systolic blood pressure and a 1.1 point drop in diastolic pressure.

Dozens of websites picked up on the news and took the opportunity to slam soda, which admittedly deserves slamming, but if you read the abstract for the study, the wording is pretty vague.

These findings suggest that sugars may be the nutrientsthat contribute to the observed association between SSB (sugar-sweetened beverages) and BP (blood pressure.)

In other words, it’s not like sugar magically transforms into blood pressure heightening potion when introduced into liquids. There were no control groups in the study to see what lowering other high-sugar foods would do. Soda took the drubbing that a lot of other crappy snacks also deserve.

While most of the articles I read completely failed to address this, WebMD at least made a vague attempt. But in my opinion, they failed. Yes, they did talk to a spokesperson from the American Beverage Association who verbosely pointed out that the study might not be black and white, but they also quoted this clown.

Although weight loss accounted for some of these blood pressure-lowering effects, cutting back on sweetened drinks also had an independent effect on blood pressure levels.

Exactly what accounts for this independent effect is not known, but several theories exist. For example, these beverages are often loaded with sodium, which can increase blood pressure, and the sugar in the drinks may increase levels of hormones known as catecholamines, which can cause blood pressure to rise.

George Bakris, MD, a professor of medicine and director of the Hypertension Center at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, says that uric acid also plays a role.

“High fructose corn syrup increases uric acid levels, which has been shown to increase high blood pressure,” says Bakris, who is also the president of the American Society of Hypertension.

The only way Bakris could have twisted the study around more and been more wrong would have been if he’d claimed that soda came from outer space and was responsible for the Kennedy assassination. First off, the study makes no mention of high fructose corn syrup. It’s about sugar. Second off, even if it did mention HFCS, it’s not HFCS that is believed to raise uric acids levels, it’s fructose. HFCS is only 50% fructose – nearly the same amount that you’ll find in sucrose. Third off, even if HFCS did raise uric acid levels slightly, it’s generally viewed as a minor culprit. According to the Mayo Clinic, meats and dried beans are far more to blame. Fourth off, even if HFCs raised uric acid levels a noticeable amount, there’s no proof that those levels cause high blood pressure. Again, according to the Mayo Clinic, “A high uric acid level may appear prior to the development of high blood pressure, heart disease or chronic kidney disease, but it’s often unclear whether high uric acid level is a direct cause or merely an early warning sign of these conditions.”

In other words, this guy is full of crap and I’m disappointed that WebMD gave him such credibility.

Soda is bad. There are studies out there linking it to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, so touting a study that potentially assigns it another black mark is like praising a book that claims Hitler killed puppies. He probably didn’t kill puppies, but who’s going to defend him? Yes, we drink too many sugar drinks and yes, we need to stop, but getting the message out via Glenn Beck/Michael Moore-style “journalism” isn’t the right way.

photo: _Toxic_@Flickr

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3 thoughts on “Slanted soda slamming.

  1. Steve Edwards

    and, btw, even though Beck and Moore both slant their research to their point of view at least Moore cites his source. Beck simply makes shit up or, even worse, cites/shows sources that are not saying what he’s saying they are saying. It’s like journalism for the mentally challenged.


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