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Doing this bad habit could cause significant heart problems

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You know soda isn’t good for your waistline, but new research shows it’s not too sweet on your heart, either. Drinking excessive amounts of soda can cause irregular heart function and even death, according to a new study presented at the European Heart Rhythm Association meeting in Athens.

The finding comes after a 31-year-old woman from Monaco went to the hospital suffering from irregular heartbeats and fainting. It turns out that the only thing she drank for 16 years was soda; she put away about two liters of the sugary stuff a day. Researchers examined six other case studies of excessive soda drinkers and found their habits had all resulted in irregular heart function, erratic heartbeats, and, in the case of one patient, death.

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The scary cause

Researchers believe that drinking too much soda can lower the body’s potassium levels. High fructose corn syrup and caffeine, both key ingredients in many sodas, are diuretics. So when you consume too much of them, they can lead to excessive urine production and diarrhea that flush potassium from the body, says study author Dr. Nadir Saoudi, chief of cardiology at the Princesse Grace Medical Centre in Monaco. Caffeine may also keep the kidneys, which regulate potassium levels, from properly doing their job.

Since potassium helps the heart maintain a regular beat, deficiencies can cause irregularities. Low potassium levels also make extreme soda drinkers prone to deteriorated skeletal muscles, says Saoudi. Once broken down, components of those muscle tissues flow though the bloodstream and can throw off electrolyte balances, leading to further heart problems.

More: The Depressing Truth About Sugary Drinks

Why diet soda isn’t the answer

Caffeine-free diet soda drinkers aren’t off the hook, either. While these drinks don’t contain corn syrup or caffeine, drinking diet soda is correlated with weight gain and obesity, which are major risk factors for heart problems, says Saoudi. Plus, previous research from the University of Miami shows that people who down diet drinks on a daily basis are 43 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke than those who don’t drink them.

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How much is too much?

Researchers haven’t yet determined how much soda is too much when it comes to your heart, but for now, they recommend no more than one 16-ounce bottle a day. Drink more than that? It’s not too late to squelch your soda habit. 

Even if you’ve downed soda exclusively for years, your potassium levels and markers for normal heart function can improve in as little as one week, says Saoudi. However, if your potassium levels are already low (the case for 98 percent of Americans, according to the CDC), you should probably drink even less soda than the recommended daily limit of one 16-ounce bottle a day.

Saoudi recommends sticking with water and eating several servings of potassium-rich produce a day -- especially if you insist on indulging your soda habit. Sweet potatoes, beet greens, tomatoes and -- of course -- bananas are all good sources of the nutrient.

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