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Sugary soft drinks and Rheumatoid Arthritis

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According to a recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, women who drink one or more sugar-sweetened soft drinks a day are significantly more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The risk appears to be even higher for older women.

Rheumatoid arthritis is believed to result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors, possibly including diet. As many studies have shown that sugar-sweetened soft drink is linked to obesity as well as type 2 diabetes and heart disease – all of which are more common in people with RA – the researchers wondered whether sugary beverages might play a role in the development of rheumatoid arthritis, too.

Details of the Study

Lead study author Yang Hu and colleagues at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston prospectively followed nearly 190,000 women enrolled in two large studies of nurses (Nurses’ Health Study and NHS II), and analyzed data about the women’s diet and health from 1980 to 2008 (in the case of the Nurses’ Health Study) and 1991 to 2009 (for NHS II).

At the beginning of the study and then approximately every two years, the women reported on their physical activity, weight and medical history using validated questionnaires. Every four years, they also answered questions about their diet for the past year, including how many colas with or without sugar they drank.

During the course of the study, 857 women developed rheumatoid arthritis. After accounting for factors such as age, weight, smoking and alcohol use, the researchers found that women who drank more than one sugar-sweetened drink per day were 63 percent more likely to develop RA than those who drank less than one a month. The increase in risk was seen only in women who went on to develop “seropositive” RA, which usually indicates more-severe disease, but not “seronegative” RA. Seropositive RA means that the patient’s blood tests positive for at least one of two autoantibodies linked to RA – rheumatoid factor (RF) and anti-citrullinated protein antibodies (also called anti-cyclic citrullinated peptides).

Results of the Study

The study also showed that women who drank more soft drinks tended to exercise less, consume more calories and have poorer diets overall than women who drank fewer sugary beverages. Even so, the risk did not seem related to weight.

According to Hu, one possible connection might be mouth infections, which often result from sugary drinks (many studies have shown gum disease to be linked to RA). Another possible explanation is that sugar-sweetened soda increases pro-inflammatory cytokines (molecules that promote inflammation) in the body, including tumor necrosis factor receptor 2 (TNF-R2) and interleukin-6 (IL-6). Both play key roles in driving inflammation and joint destruction in RA.

The study also found that older women who drank sugar-sweetened soft drinks had a greater risk of developing RA than younger women did and that the overall number of sodas consumed increased the risk in older but not younger women. Researchers say this makes sense because the effects of diet on health are cumulative, and it may be years before the chronic inflammation potentially caused by sugary soda finally causes rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

It was interesting to note that other beverages, such as diet cola and fruit juice, weren’t associated with an increased RA risk. But, substituting skim milk for soda seemed to decrease the risk, possibly due to the beneficial effects of vitamin D.

Hu stresses that his study does not prove that drinking sugar-sweetened sodas causes RA, but it does show a strong association between the two. He suggests that, “It would be helpful to advise patients who have early symptoms or a family history of rheumatoid arthritis to limit their consumption of sugar-sweetened soda. Diet soda, plain water and skim milk would be good alternatives.”

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This web site is run by an Arthritis Specialist based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. On this site you will find news about the latest in arthritis, information about research results in the field, tips and information and diet and exercise, and much more.

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This web site is run by an Arthritis Specialist based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. On this site you will find news about the latest in arthritis, information about research results in the field, tips and information and diet and exercise, and much more.

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