Soda Widows

By Andréa Maria Cecil

In Medical/Injuries, Nutrition

November 08, 2015

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Scientists link repeated hydration with sugar-sweetened beverages to kidney disease and early death in Central America.

It’s called La Isla de Viudas: Widows’ Island.

The name comes from the rural sugarcane-worker community of La Isla in Nicaragua, where thousands of men have died from the same epidemic over the last two decades. All perished of chronic kidney disease, referred to as “CKD,” and researchers estimate the overall death toll in Central America is at least 20,000. The condition targets working-age men, most of whom labor in the region’s ubiquitous sugarcane fields.

“It’s what we call ‘chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology’ ... so it’s been a big mystery,” Dr. Richard Johnson said during a Nov. 7 presentation at the American Society of Nephrology’s Kidney Week conference in San Diego, California. Johnson is a professor of renal diseases and hypertension at the University of Colorado Denver’s Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora.

Further exacerbating the workers’ condition is their hydration drink of choice: sugar-sweetened beverages, a class that includes soda, sports drinks, juices and other fluids to which sugar is added. More often than not, workers turn to soda in many Central American countries where clean drinking water is unavailable or soda is cheaper than bottled water.

Johnson—along with 13 other scientists—investigated the mystery, and the American Journal of Kidney Diseases published their findings on Oct. 5.

“If you drink a soda for hydration, you are killing your body,” Johnson said. “We know that soda drinking increases the risk of kidney disease.”

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