June 1, 2012

Possible Diabetes Prevention With Plain Water

It´s a Friday morning and you find yourself hungry for breakfast. Instead of heading for the fridge and pouring yourself an ice cold glass of orange juice, you might just want to grab an orange and drink some plain water instead. These are the findings of a new study published in a recent issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that revealed that women who decided to drink plain water instead of sugary drinks, such as juices or soda, had less of a chance of developing diabetes.

The project looked at data from over 80,000 women during a ten-year period. The findings showed that women who drink water along with sugary drinks don´t lose weight, but those who replace the sweet beverages with plain water are more likely to benefit by having less of a risk of developing diabetes.

"It is essentially not that water helps, except with hydration, but that the others hurt," Barry Popkin, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health unaffiliated with the study, said in an article by Reuters Health.

Dr. Frank Hu, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, worked on the study and was able to highlight how sugary drinks can increase diabetes risk. Hu, a senior author of the study, and colleagues studied data from the Nurses Health Study, which includes information on the health and lifestyle of tens of thousands of women in the U.S. Consumption of water is recommended to patients, but it´s difficult to know if the lifestyle changes proposed by physicians are actually adopted.

"And the question is whether this kind of substitution has any impact on diabetes,” noted Hu in the Reuters Health article.

In total, 89,902 women participated in the study and answered questions regarding their diet and health over a 12-year period. 2,700 of the 89,902 were found to have developed diabetes. Interesting enough, sugary drinks were found to be related to a higher chance of diabetes and the researchers discovered that every sugary beverage a woman consumed could increase her risk of diabetes by 10 percent. However, drinking water didn´t affect the participants; those who drank over six cups a day had the same level of risk as those who drank one cup of water a day.

Based on the results, the researchers came to the conclusion that women could cut down their risk of diabetes by decreasing the consumption of sugary drinks. If they replaced a cup of soda or juice with a cup of water, their risk of diabetes would decrease by seven or eight percent. This finding could be significant for future populations; currently, about 10 percent of women have diabetes in the U.S.

"Because diabetes is so prevalent in our society, even seven or eight percent reduction in diabetes risk is quite substantial in terms of the population," Hu explained to Reuters Health.

A seven or eight reduction in the risk of diabetes would mean that, instead of 10 out of 100 women being diagnosed with diabetes, there would be nine out of every 100 being diagnosed with diabetes. Overall, the study shows that drinking juice instead of soda is not necessarily healthy and water is one of the best options for a calorie-free drink. Hu´s report also proposed that replacing sugary drinks with unsweetened coffee or tea might be beneficial.

"The reality is those juices contain the same amount of calories and sugar as soft drinks," Hu remarked in the Reuters Health article. “If the water is too plain, you can add a squeeze of lemon or lime."

In an article in the National Post, registered dietician Jennifer Sygo of the Cleveland Clinic Canada also reiterated sentiments found in the study and advised people to eat fruit rather than drinking juice.

“If you don´t drink juice already, I wouldn´t go out of my way to start; plain water is almost always your best choice. And always remember, when given the choice, you´re better off eating a whole piece of fruit than drinking juice: You simply can´t replace the nutrients and sense of fullness that are lost when fruit is turned into juice,” wrote Sygo.

While there is support for the findings in the study, there are also limitations to the experiment. For example, according to Donna Manring, DTR, the participants were a targeted population of female nurses with European ancestry, so the findings cannot be generalized for the larger population. As well, since the diabetes rates were self-reported, other women may have been diabetic and this would not have been reflected in the results of the study. With this in mind, the study did not show a cause-and-effect relationship but rather an association among factors.

“While I agree that consuming water for hydration on a daily basis is beneficial, the truth is all beverages hydrate — and sugary drinks can be part of a healthy lifestyle,” wrote Manring in an email to redOrbit. “As I hear concerns from my clients regarding this study, I remind them one piece of research should not change their dietary habits. Instead, I counsel clients, including individuals and companies like Coke, to follow the recommendations of leading health organization like the American Diabetes Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Both support the idea of looking at the total diet and incorporating daily physical activity to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle.”