By Sharon Kay
Sugary soft drinks are one of the leading culprits of the obesity epidemic in America, and now a new study shows that your favorite sugary sodas may also worsen osteoarthritis of the knee in men.
Osteoarthritis is often caused by wear and tear of the cartilage surface, the soft cushion between bones. Symptoms of osteoarthritis include pain, stiffness, reduced movement, swelling, and grating noises when moving the joint. One in two Americans may eventually develop knee osteoarthritis, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a study following 2,149 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee, researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Tufts Medical Center in Boston, and Brown University in Providence, R.I., monitored knee X-rays taken at 12, 24, 36, and 48 months. Patients, especially men, who drank high-calorie soft drinks, showed worse narrowing of the joint space in their knees — a measurable symptom of osteoarthritis. People who did not drink these beverages showed less progressive disease. The findings were presented this week at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.
When the study began, patients were asked to report how much and how often they drank sugar-sweetened beverages. Their body mass index (BMI) was also recorded and tracked throughout the study. Men who consumed more than five soft drinks a week had twice as much narrowing of joint space — an average of 0.59 millimeters — as compared to men who did not drink high-calorie soft drinks.
Overweight and obesity are known risk factors for osteoarthritis, but surprisingly, men in the study who weighed less, or had a lower BMI, actually showed worse knee damage if they drank more soft drinks compared to heavier men. And only the women in the study with the lowest BMI numbers and heavier soft-drink consuming habits showed worse symptoms of knee osteoarthritis.
This further suggests that soft drinks may cause damage independent of the wear and tear typically caused by overweight and obesity, explains the study's lead investigator, Bing Lu, MD, of Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Dr. Lu said that he and his colleagues aren't exactly sure why high-calorie soft drinks worsen osteoarthritis, but they hypothesize that several ingredients in these sugary drinks negatively affect overall bone health. For example, Lu says the caffeine in most soft drinks is considered a risk factor for osteoporosis. "Furthermore, soft drinks may contain phosphoric acid, which was shown to interfere with calcium absorption and to contribute to imbalances that lead to additional loss of calcium. It has also been suggested that the high fructose corn syrup used to sweeten carbonated beverages may negatively affect bone," adds Lu.
More research is needed to understand why soft drinks may lead to worsening symptoms of osteoarthritis, particularly in men, but the study shows that sweet soft drinks are an identifiable risk factor associated with worsening osteoarthritis — and one that can be easily avoided.
"Sugary Soft Drinks Worsen Osteoarthritis In Men" originally appeared on Everyday Health.