​Adults over 45 who consume large amounts of sugary drinks may have a higher risk of dying from heart disease or other causes, compared to those who drink fewer sugary drinks.

That's according to preliminary research that found a graded association between consuming more sugary beverages – such as soft drinks, fruit drinks and fruit juices – and an increased risk of death from heart disease or any cause.

And the study's finding should encourage healthcare providers to ask patients about sugary beverage consumption during well visits to open the door to a conversation about a dietary change that could be made to reduce risk, the authors say.

Study participants in the top 25% of consumers – those who tended to drink 24 ounces or more of sugary beverages each day – had twice the risk of death from coronary heart disease compared to those in the lowest 25% of people who drank less than one ounce.

In addition, there was an increased risk of death from all causes, including other cardiovascular conditions.

The study, however, found no link between the consumption of sugary foods and increased risk of death, a distinction the researchers said may be related to how sugary drinks and foods are processed by the body.

Several studies have shown an association between added sugar and obesity and various chronic diseases. However, few have been able to look at the association between increased sugar consumption and death. It is important to note that this study does not prove cause and effect, rather it identifies a trend.

The researchers estimated sugary food and beverage consumption using a food frequency questionnaire. Sugar-sweetened beverages included those pre-sweetened, such as sodas and fruit drinks.

Sugar-sweetened foods included desserts, candy and sweetened breakfast foods as well as foods to which calorie-containing sweeteners such as sugars or syrups had been added.

The participants were followed for an average of about six years, and researchers used death records to look at the cause of death, focusing on deaths from heart disease, such as heart attack, heart failure and deaths from all other causes.

The researchers observed this effect when they statistically made the participants equal with respect to income, race, education, smoking history and physical activity. When they controlled for known heart disease risk factors such as total calorie consumption, high blood pressure, abnormalities in blood lipids or body weight, the effect remained. Researchers did not see any increased risk with consumption of sugary foods.

The quantity and frequency of consumption of sugary beverages, coupled with the fact that they contain few, if any other nutrients, results in a flood of sugars that need to be metabolised. When people consume sugars in foods there are often other nutrients such as fats or proteins which slow down metabolism and may explain the different effect seen between the two.