Drinking a lot of soda and other sugary beverages has been linked to an increased risk of obesity and diabetes, among other health problems.
Here's another reason to cut back: A new study suggests that even one sweetened drink per day may contribute to higher blood pressure.
The more sugary beverages a person drinks, the higher his or her blood pressure is likely to be, according to the study, which appears in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension.
Each additional soda, lemonade, or fruit drink the study participants consumed on a daily basis was associated with a small but measurable uptick in systolic and diastolic blood pressure of 1.6 and 0.8 points, respectively. (A blood-pressure reading consists of the systolic pressure "over" the diastolic pressure.)
A blood-pressure increase of that magnitude is not a major cause for concern, so the findings may need to be taken with a grain of salt -- or not, since excess sodium is still the prime offender when it comes to high blood pressure (hypertension).
It's not uncommon for a person's blood pressure to fluctuate by 1 or 2 points within a single day, says John Bisognano, M.D., the director of outpatient cardiology and hypertension at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, who was not involved in the new research.
However, Bisognano adds, blood-pressure increases that might seem negligible in an individual could add up to substantial public health risks when multiplied across entire populations.
"From a public health standpoint, if you could lower blood pressure 1 to 2 points in individuals over a community, it's a big deal," he says. "It could translate...into fewer strokes and maybe fewer heart attacks."
The study, which included about 2,700 middle-aged men and women in the U.S. and U.K., doesn't prove that sugary drinks directly increase blood pressure. In fact, the study suggests that people who drink soda and similar beverages tend to have an unhealthier overall diet and lifestyle than people who don't, which makes it difficult to pinpoint the effect of sugary drinks.
In addition to consuming more sugar and calories, the study participants who drank sweetened beverages consumed fewer nutrients and were several pounds heavier, on average, than their counterparts who avoided the drinks.
Although the researchers took these and other factors into account, they acknowledge that the food questionnaires they used aren't foolproof and that the apparent link between sugary drinks and blood pressure could have been shaped by additional, unidentified factors.