If the “empty” calories in sugary beverages haven’t been enough to persuade many men to hydrate in a healthier way, perhaps knowing they have a 20% higher risk of heart disease and increased levels of harmful blood lipids because of the sugary drinks will do the trick.

Recent research led by Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, and published in the March 20, 2012, issue of the journal Circulation (doi:10.1161/circulationaha.111.067017), adds to the growing evidence that sugary drinks are detrimental to cardiovascular health. Men who drank a 12-ounce sugar-sweetened beverage every day had a 20% higher risk of heart disease than men who didn’t consume any sugar-sweetened drinks. “Certainly, it provides strong justification for reducing sugary beverage consumption among patients, and more importantly, in the general population,” Hu said in an American Heart Association press release.

Overview. Researchers studied 42,883 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and found that the result persisted even after controlling for other risk factors, including smoking, physical inactivity, alcohol use and family history of heart disease. Less frequent consumption (twice weekly and twice monthly) didn’t increase risk.

Researchers also measured blood lipids and blood proteins, including the inflammation marker C-reactive protein (CRP), triglycerides and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). These serve as biomarkers for heart disease. Compared with nondrinkers, men who consumed a sugary beverage each day had higher triglyceride and CRP levels and lower levels of HDL cholesterol. Artificially sweetened beverages were not linked to higher risk or increased biomarkers for heart disease in this study.

Health habits of the men in the study may differ from those of the general public, but findings in women were comparable in the 2009 Nurses’ Health Study, Hu said.