The largest gathering of scientists and health care professionals in the field of cardiovascular disease and stroke got together last week in Orlando, Fla., at the annual American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions to hear the latest cutting-edge research in their field.

While it's impossible to encapsulate some of the nearly 4,000 presentations, I did scan through a list in an attempt to spotlight interesting or surprising findings.

Sugar-sweetened drinks

Not surprising but worthy for confirmation, a University of Oklahoma study found that women who drink two or more sugar- sweetened beverages per day experienced increasing waist circumferences, developed high triglyceride levels and a high risk for Type 2 diabetes, and were put at a greater risk for cardiovascular disease than men.

Researchers compared middle-age and older women who drank two or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day, such as carbonated sodas or flavored waters with added sugar, to women who drank one or none daily. Women consuming two or more beverages per day were nearly four times as likely to develop high triglyceride levels and were significantly more likely to increase their waist sizes and to develop impaired fasting glucose levels. The same associations were not observed in men.

"Women who drank more than two sugar-sweetened drinks a day had increasing waist sizes, but weren't necessarily gaining weight," says Dr. Christina Shay, lead author of the study and assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City.

Shay adds that the increased risk for women may be due to the fact that they require fewer calories than men.

Teeth cleaning

A study in Taiwan found that professional tooth scaling, or scraping and cleaning, was associated with fewer heart attacks and strokes.

Among more than 100,000 people -- followed for an average of seven years -- those who had their teeth cleaned by a dentist or dental hygienist had a 24 percent lower risk of heart attack and 13 percent lower risk of stroke compared with those who had never had a dental cleaning. The participants were followed for an average of seven years.

Scientists considered the cleaning "frequent" if it occurred at least twice or more in two years and "occasional" if done once or less in two years.

Similarly, a Swedish study found that gum disease can predict risk for heart attack, stroke and congestive heart failure.

Dentist Anders Holmlund of the Center for Research and Development of the County Council of Gavleborg, Sweden, studied 7,999 participants with periodontal disease and found that a higher number of deepened periodontal pockets (infection of the gum around the base of the tooth) had a 53 percent increased risk of heart attack compared to those with the fewest pockets.

Poverty & heart disease

The Cardiovascular Health Study of 5,153 Medicare-eligible older adults found that the odds of having heart failure appear to be higher in seniors with a low income, defined as a household income less than $25,000 a year, regardless of education levels. The study is the first to link low income with an increased risk of heart failure in Medicare-eligible community-dwelling older men and women.

"As far as the risk of developing heart failure is concerned, lower education (defined as less than college level) may not matter if a person is able to maintain a high income in later years," says Dr. Ali Ahmed, senior researcher.

Researchers add they were surprised by the influence of income on heart failure risk in a population where nearly everyone has health insurance that provides care for major heart failure risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes and coronary artery disease. Although both the poor and the well-off benefit from the Medicare program, there may be certain differences that expose the poor to suboptimal care for major heart failure risk factors.

Over a 13-year study period, researchers found that 18 percent of older adults with high education and high income developed heart failure, while 17 percent of older adults with low education and high income developed heart failure. In contrast, 23 percent of older adults with low income developed heart failure regardless of their education level.

Reach David Quick at 937-5516 or dquick@postandcourier.com.