New article: Can a high sugar intake predispose you to develop atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is a progressive condition that starts during our childhood by accumulating fatty materials in the interior of our blood vessels. This leads to the formation of plaques that narrow the diameter of our arteries and reduces the blood flow to the organs. Atherosclerosis is one of the main underlying processes behind numerous cardiovascular diseases, such as myocardial infarction or stroke, and can be largely influenced by our lifestyle. 

The way we eat, how much we exercise, and whether we smoke tobacco or drink alcohol, among others are some of the main risk factors for both atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. This means that these risk factors can be modified and therefore we can have an active role in reducing our risk for developing atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases.

However, while the effect of diet on atherosclerosis has been extensively studied, not much is known about the role that sugar consumption plays in all of this. In our latest study published on Nutrients, we explored precisely that. To do so, we studied the intake of different forms of sugar intake as well as the consumption of sugar-rich foods and sugar-sweetened beverages of over 5000 participants from the Malmö Diet and Cancer Study; and we compared them to the thickness of their arterial walls measuring the Intima-Media Thickness (IMT) via ultrasound. An increase of IMT is usually the first sign of atherosclerosis, before we even develop symptoms and is therefore an important instrument for early detection and the study of prevention. 

In our study, we found overall no significant associations with any of our forms to ascertain sugar intake (added sugar, free sugar, total sugar sugar-rich foods, sugar-sweetened beverages) and IMT measured at two sites (the common carotid artery and the bifurcation of the carotids). However a subtle tendency towards a thicker IMT at the common carotid artery on those participants with the highest added sugar intake could potentially point towards a higher risk of cardiovascular disease for the participants with and added sugar intake above 20% of their energy intake. 

Therefore, further research is needed to confirm our suspicions by exploring the association between sugar intake and IMT in populations from different countries and age groups as well as using longitudinal studies where the progression of the disease can also be explored. Studying groups of participants with higher sugar intake could also show stronger associations between sugar intake and atherosclerosis.

Read more about sugar consumption and atherosclerosis here: González-Padilla et al. Nutrients 2021.

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