Sodas and other sugary beverages such as fruit drinks may contribute to a significant increase in blood pressure, according to new research published in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Reducing one’s intake of glucose and fructose, both sweeteners found in high-fructose corn syrup, the most common sweetener used by the beverage industry, could reduce hypertension and improve cardiovascular health, the researchers from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London conclude.

Their study involved 2,696 participants, ages 40 to 59 years old, in the United States and the UK. Participants self-reported their food and drink intake over four days, underwent two urine tests and eight blood pressure readings, filled out questionnaires and were interviewed about lifestyle, dietary habits and medical history.

Researchers found that for each serving of sugar-sweetened beverage study participants consumed during a day, systolic blood pressure (the upper measurement) was higher by an average of 1.6 mmHg and the diastolic reading (the lower measurement) went up by an average of 0.8 mmHg. They did not find a similar link between diet soft drinks and blood pressure.

Sugar-sweetened drinks and fructose may increase uric acid in the blood, which in turn may lower the nitric oxide that keeps blood vessels dilated, the researchers suggested.

Participants who had the greatest increase in blood pressures were those who not only drank the most sugary drinks but also had the highest level of salt intake, suggesting that sugar and salt together may be worse than salt alone.

The researchers also found that those who drank more than one sugary drink per day also consumed more calories overall, with an average extra intake of nearly 400 empty calories per day.

American Heart Association recommendations are that no more than half of one’s discretionary calorie allowance come from added sugars. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans call for drinking water instead of sugary drinks.

The study was funded by The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, Chicago Health Research Foundation and national agencies in China, Japan and the United Kingdom.