It’s not just about weight in the diabetes debate

Sweet drinks like cola, lemonade, energy drinks, cordials and fruit juices are a tempting refreshment on hot summer days; a pleasurable addition to any meal or a little ‘energy boost’ during a long day at the office. They may taste great, but they aren’t great for you...

Laden with kilojoules, drinking too many sugary drinks can cause significant weight gain and increase the risk of developing health problems, most commonly type 2 diabetes, which causes raised levels of glucose, a type of sugar, in the blood. It is particularly damaging to vital organs and increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

It is widely known that carrying extra body fat is a major risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. As Ian Caterson, professor of human nutrition at the University of Sydney, explains, ‘it is more about being overweight, particularly around the waist, that is linked with type 2 diabetes, rather than any particular food you eat’.

Excess fat leaves you more prone to type 2 diabetes because it unsettles your hormonal system. The hormone insulin, which is released from the pancreas, is unable to transport glucose into the body’s cells. According to Caterson, ‘people with diabetes have high blood sugar because they’re still absorbing sugar from food, but their body cannot process it appropriately’.

As the regular consumption of sweet drinks leads to weight gain, there is a strong association between drinking soft drinks and developing type 2 diabetes. However, do sugary drinks raise the risk of type 2 diabetes purely because they cause weight gain, or can regularly consuming such drinks still increase your type 2 diabetes risk, regardless of whether you are overweight?

A recent study from Cambridge University analysed 17 separate observational studies in order to determine whether sugary drinks alone cause type 2 diabetes. The researchers concluded that a higher consumption of sweetened beverages by one serving per day was associated with an 18 per cent increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Dr Aseem Malhotra, spokesperson for the campaigning group Action on Sugar, suggests that the results of this study clearly link the regular consumption of sugary drinks with the increased risk of type 2 diabetes, even for people who are not overweight; suggesting that ‘we are all vulnerable’.

While this study adds to the growing evidence that sugary beverages can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to Dr Alasdair Rankin, director of research at Diabetes UK, ‘the study does not provide strong evidence about whether this is because of the calories these drinks contain or if there is something else going on in the body that is leading to an increase in risk’.

Either way, consuming too much soft drink increases your chances of gaining weight, which consequently increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, so limiting intake is advisable.

Source: BMJ