Sugar is one of the most dangerous substances on the planet. Period.
So I was interested to see a new report pointing out the many serious risks of sugar-sweetened beverages—including cancer, heart disease, and early death—in the prestigious mainstream medical journal Circulation.
I’ll tell you all about that important indictment of sugar in a moment. But first, let’s take a step back to talk about its history in the American economy…
Big sugar industry grows in power, covers up science
I first learned about the economic impact of the big sugar industry from my high school U.S. History teacher, Harvey Goddard.
I even remember a political cartoon by Thomas Nast in our huge textbook that showed President Teddy Roosevelt wielding his proverbial “big stick” at a character dressed up as a big sack of sugar. The character was labeled “King Sugar.”
The illustration represented President Roosevelt’s worries about the effects of big sugar and crony capitalist agriculture on the U.S. economy. Of course, at that point in time, we didn’t even know about the harmful health effects of sugar. (Although, Roosevelt did start the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] around that same time by signing the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.)
Over the ensuing 110 years, studies began emerging that consistently found an association between sugar consumption and increases in risk for Type II diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and disability.
Meanwhile, soft drink consumption skyrocketed globally.
In fact, when I worked in China back in the 1970s and 1980s, we couldn’t drink the water. So, in field study, our options were to drink boiled water from thermos bottles, soft drinks, or beer.
Of course, I knew about the health effects of sugar-sweetened beverages, so I often opted for beer. As an added bonus, I learned more Chinese by buying Wuxi (5 Star) and Baiyun (White Cloud) beer!
But, my point is this: Big sugar clearly had a major hand in helping to promote the spread of sugar-sweetened beverages worldwide. And they worked really hard to make sure the real science about the health dangers of sugar remained hidden from the public.
Thankfully, more real science is starting to emerge. And the latest study in Circulation purports to be the “last nail in the coffin of sugar.” (Well, we can hope.)
Sugar could be the ultimate metabolic poison
The new study used data from two of the biggest, oldest, and longest prospective cohort studies on health: the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS). (I’ve reported on findings from both of these studies for many years.)
For this new analysis, researchers found a “robust” relationship between the intake of sugar-sweetened drinks and the risks of heart disease and death. There was also a dose-dependent response—meaning the higher the intake of sugary drinks, the higher the risks of heart disease and death.
We see this kind of “robust,” dose-dependent risk relationship in forensic medicine and toxicology when testing poisons. In fact, the best way to identify a poison as a cause of illness and death is to see that increasing doses lead to worsening effects. And that’s just what the researchers found for sugar, perhaps making it the ultimate metabolic poison in the human diet.
Sugar and breast cancer
The intake of sugar-sweetened drinks was not as strongly or consistently associated with cancer in general. But it was strongly linked with breast cancer specifically. In fact, the more sugary drinks women drank, the higher their breast cancer risk.
Drinking diet sodas or artificially sweetened beverages (ASBs) increased health risks, too.
In fact, drinking ASBs was associated with higher risks of heart disease and death. And women who drank just four or more ASBs per week showed an even stronger risk of death.
In their conclusion, the authors, for once, did not say, “more research is necessary.” Instead, they wrote, refreshingly, “rather than generating more data on the adverse effects of [soft drinks], we need to move on to the harder task and aim to make greater strides in understanding what the motivation is for choosing [soft drinks] despite knowledge of the risks.” (That was more refreshing to read than drinking a purportedly refreshing soft drink!)
Finally, a step in the right direction!
But even if people stop drinking sugar-sweetened soft drinks (and some statistics show this decline is starting to happen), we still can’t get complacent. Because the crony, corporatist, big food industry is already lining up other disastrous, ultra-processed plant products.
In fact, as I explained in the March 2019 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter (“NEWS ALERT: Popular plant-based diets are not as healthy as they claim”), some in the scientific community have started promoting the idea that people should follow a plant-based diet to save the planet and achieve good health. (Not a subscriber? Click here to sign up!) And they’ve already enlisted credulous do-gooders, clueless vegetarian groups, climate activists, and the politically correct British medical journal The Lancet to go along with this marketing scheme.
But the “plants” they suggest we eat are really just highly processed plant products made with genetically modified (GM) soy and other junk—such as dairy “alternatives,” cereals, “energy” and “sports” bars, protein powders, and meat “substitutes.”
It seems these neo-fruitcakes would have us all destroy our health to mistakenly try to “save the planet” if they could.
So just remember, the science shows we need to stay away from processed products of any kind—especially those that contain sugar.
And when it comes to beverages, skip the sweetened soft drinks. (And that includes diet soft drinks with artificial sweeteners like aspartame, too.) Instead, opt for natural spring and mineral waters, bottled at the source in glass for best results.
“Last Nail in the Coffin for Sugar-Sweetened Beverages.” Circulation 2019;139:2126–2128. doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.119.040245