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Sugary Sodas High in Diabetes-Linked Compound

But experts say more study is needed to confirm any danger

FRIDAY, Aug. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Sodas sweetened with high fructose corn syrup contain high levels of a potentially dangerous compound often found in the blood of diabetics, a new study concludes.

It could be cause for concern, experts say, because the "reactive carbonyls" in these sugary drinks could bump up diabetes risk, particularly in children.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) "is the most popular sweetener used in foods and beverages today, it has been used in the United States for many years," said Chi-Tang Ho, a professor of food science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

Virtually all carbonated soft drinks in the United States are sweetened with HFCS, mostly because it dissolves easily, is sweeter than other types of sugar, and is more economical. Although the study did not specifically investigate the risk of diabetes with HFCS drinks, Ho suggested that steering clear of them might be a healthy move.

His team tested 11 carbonated soft drinks that contained HFCS and found they contained high levels of reactive carbonyls -- compounds that are normally elevated in the blood of people with diabetes.

The study was expected to be presented Thursday at the American Chemical Society annual meeting in Boston.

The reactive carbonyls in the blood of diabetics have been linked to complications of diabetes, such as tissue damage, Ho said.

In his study, Ho found that just one can of HCFS-sweetened carbonated beverage contained about five times the amount of reactive carbonyls found in the blood of a person with diabetes. In comparison, sucrose -- ordinary table sugar -- contains no reactive carbonyls, he said.

Ho suggests that parents check the labels of all the beverages their children consume and discourage them from drinking those containing HCFS. Instead, substitute diet carbonated beverages, water or fruit juices.

Ho also noted that other types of beverages may contain high levels of HFCS, as well. So-called "hydrating" sports drinks often contain HFCS. Ho is particularly concerned about high-caffeine energy drinks.

"I worry about kids in high school," he said. "They rely on energy drinks to do their homework and stay awake. The level of [HFCS] is so high."

Adding a beneficial antioxidant compound found in tea called "epigallocatechin gallate," or EGCG, to drinks that contain HFCS appears to lower reactive carbonyl levels, Ho said. That could mean that drinking beverages that contain both tea extracts and HFCS may not be as harmful as drinking HCFS-sweetened sodas, he said. However, further research is needed to prove that.

Beverages that contain both fruit juice and HFCS also appear to have fewer reactive carbonyl levels, possibly because of beneficial compounds called phytochemicals found naturally in fruit juice, Ho said.

Lona Sandon is assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. She said the Rutgers study is still inconclusive.

"It doesn't address the risk [of diabetes], it simply shows a possible mechanism for why there might be more risk in children who drink more HFCS-sweetened sodas," she said.

"Although there are other epidemiologic studies showing a correlation between sweetened soda and diabetes, it is not a proven cause-and-effect," Sandon said.

Nevertheless, she suggests that everyone follow dietary guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Those guidelines advocate reducing sweetened drinks from the diet, and "most health professionals currently recommend that kids get zero sugary drinks a day, particularly overweight or obese children," Sandon said.

Dr. Barbara B. Kahn, chief of the division of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, agreed that Ho's study "needs to be validated by other studies" before definitive conclusions can be drawn.

"However, given the marked prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes in our society, and the accompanying risks for cardiovascular disease, there is no reason related to health to drink beverages sweetened with high fructose corn syrup," said Kahn, who is also a professor of medicine at Harvard University.

"In general, it would be healthier to avoid most high-calorie beverages as part of a program to prevent obesity," she added. "There may be added reasons to avoid beverages with HFCS."

More information

Read the U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

SOURCES: Chi-Tang Ho, Ph.D., professor, food science, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J.; Lona Sandon, R.D., assistant professor, clinical nutrition, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, and spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association; Barbara B. Kahn, M.D., chief, division of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and professor, medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston; presentation, Aug. 23, 2007, American Chemical Society annual meeting, Boston

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