How many of us have opted for a diet soda when we are watching our calorie intake?
Surely it is a better option than the ‘full fat’ version, right?
What easier way to make a healthy substitution than to switch to a sugar-free, zero calorie beverage?
I think that most of us know that this is not really the whole story. Nobody really loses weight by drinking diet soda. But the truth behind diet soda is far more sinister than you might realise, as has been illustrated by a recent study.
A soda is a carbonated beverage, and a diet version is the description given to those that are not sweetened with sugar. Rather they are made with artificial sweeteners, including aspartame, cyclamate and sucralose. Many popular brands of soda offer a ‘diet’ or ‘lite’ version.
A large study of 60,000 women, presented in December 2014, found a link between diet drinks and heart attacks and stokes in healthy, postmenopausal women.
We aimed to evaluate the relationship between diet drink intake and cardiovascular events. We conducted a retrospective cohort study, utilizing data from the national, multicenter Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, recruiting subjects from 1993 to 1998.
Post-menopausal women with available diet drink intake data, without pre-existing cardiovascular disease were included in the study.
A composite of incident coronary heart disease, heart failure, myocardial infarction, coronary revascularization procedure, ischemic stroke, peripheral arterial disease and cardiovascular death was used as the primary outcome. Cardiovascular death and all-cause mortality were secondary outcomes.
The serving size measured was a 12 ounce serving of diet soda. The group of women was separated into four segments. Those who drank 2 or more diet drinks per day, 5-7 per week, 1-4 per week and 0-3 per month. The participants self reported on their consumption, and a follow up summary was conducted after 9 years. They took into account demographic conditions such as genetics, weight, smoking and also sugar sweetened soda intake.
The outcome was that women who consumed two or more diet drinks a day are 30 percent more likely to experience a cardiovascular event, and 50 percent more likely to die from a related disease.
“It’s too soon to tell people to change their behaviour based on this study; however, based on these and other findings we have a responsibility to do more research to see what is going on and further define the relationship, if one truly exists,” says
“It’s too soon to tell people to change their behaviour based on this study; however, based on these and other findings we have a responsibility to do more research to see what is going on and further define the relationship, if one truly exists. This could have major public health implications. This could have major public health implications.” ~ Dr. Ankur Vyas
This study demonstrated an association between diet soda and heart attacks and strokes, but is not able to say conclusively that the diet sodas were the cause behind the health conditions. The researchers said that further studies were required before people were advised to change their behaviour.
However, when we look at the body of evidence that is already available, the link seems to be more than a coincidence.
In a Harvard study spanning 11 years, research was conducted on 3,000 women. The results showed that diet soda was linked to a two-fold increased risk for decline in kidney function in women who drank more than two sodas per day. This decline in kidney function was not found in those that drank standard sugar-sweetened carbonated beverages – which suggests that the artificial sweeteners were the cause.
Research conducted by the University of Minnesota in 2008 assessed the impact of drinking one soda per day, and they measured 10,000 adults. The scientists found a connection between the consumption of just one soda each day and an increased risk of metabolic syndrome – by a whopping 34%. Metabolic Syndrome is linked to a number of risk factors for disease – including increased belly fat and raised cholesterol. Metabolic syndrome also raises the chances of developing diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Artificial sweeteners can also disrupt the body’s ability to regulate appetite and calorie intake, as it causes confusion with overly sweet non-calorie food. It can cause cravings for more sweet foods and may also lead to over-eating.
Two chemicals to be aware of are sodium benzoate and potassium benzoate. These are mould inhibitors that are found in the vast majority of diet sodas, but not in regular sugar-based sodas. They have been linked to a range of allergic conditions including asthma and have also been classified as mild irritants, particularly to the eyes and skin by the British Food Commission.
“These chemicals have the ability to cause severe damage to DNA in the mitochondria to the point that they totally inactivate it – they knock it out altogether,” Peter Piper, a professor of molecular biology and biotechnology at the University of Sheffield in the U.K.
There is a link between diet soda and dental health problems. Diet soda is acidic, with a pH of 3.2 and this is corrosive to our tooth enamel. There have also been links made between diet soda and depression. A large study of over 260, 000 adults found that those who drank soda were 30% more prone to developing depression over the course of a decade. They found that the connection was more pronounced with diet sodas.
People who drank more than four cans or cups per day of soda were 30 percent more likely to develop depression than those who drank no soda. Those who drank four cans of fruit punch per day were about 38 percent more likely to develop depression than those who did not drink sweetened drinks. People who drank four cups of coffee per day were about 10 percent less likely to develop depression than those who drank no coffee. The risk appeared to be greater for people who drank diet than regular soda, diet than regular fruit punches and for diet than regular iced tea.
Diet soda has also been associated with early labour and premature delivery. A Danish study followed almost 60,000 pregnant women, and found that consuming just 1 diet soda per day was connected to a 38% increase in risk of early delivery.
Drinking 4 servings a day further increased that risk to a staggering 78%.
There was an association between intake of artificially sweetened carbonated and noncarbonated soft drinks and an increased risk of preterm delivery.
A stronger increase in risk was observed for early preterm and moderately preterm delivery than with late-preterm delivery. No association was observed for sugar-sweetened carbonated soft drinks.
Daily intake of artificially sweetened soft drinks may increase the risk of preterm delivery. Further studies are needed to reject or confirm these findings.
Type II diabetes is being diagnosed in more and more people in the Western world recently, and is strongly connected to obesity and specifically sugar consumption. It could therefore be anticipated that sugar-free beverages help in the control of the condition, but this does not appear to be the case.
Many studies are concluding that drinking diet soda can actually increase the onset of diabetes – and by a shocking amount.
At least daily consumption of diet soda was associated with a 36% greater relative risk of incident metabolic syndrome and a 67% greater relative risk of incident type 2 diabetes compared with non-consumption.
It is only fair that we point out that the links between diet sodas and all of these negative health effects could be nothing more than a causal link. We cannot confirm that they actually do cause harm – but the statistics do demonstrate a strong association.
Could this be simply because those individuals who choose to drink diet sodas are already overweight? It is difficult to say. Still the facts are not exactly promising.
I personally choose to steer clear of sodas, and will particularly avoid the diet variety. There is no need for them in our diet, and the studies conducted around them do not feel me with confidence that they are in any way safe for consumption.
What are your thoughts on the subject? Are you a lover of a diet coke? Or do you avoid artificial sweeteners as though they were poison?
We would love to hear from you.
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