The “Skinny” About Diet Soda
It’s no secret that many of us have a diet soda addiction. If it satisfies our desire for a sweet drink, but it contains fewer or no calories, it’s got to be a good thing, right? We probably all know at this point that soda with sugar is very bad for us, but how about their diet counterparts?
Science is still at the early stages of research on the impact of diet sodas on our bodies, but quite a few research projects are beginning to show common denominators about how these drinks affect our body.
In a study published in 2017, Dana Small, a neuroscientist at Yale University, discovered how our brains react to various amounts of sweet-like stimulation. She tested subjects with a variety of drinks with different amounts of sweeteners and caloric content. The conclusion, which she is now researching further, is that the brain can be confused by a mismatch of calories and sweetness, triggering our metabolisms to store these calories as opposed to burning them as fuel. In other words, these artificial sweeteners can impact our metabolisms and not in a positive way.
Researcher Matthew Pase, a senior fellow in the department of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, recently published a study showing that consuming one diet beverage per day may increase the risk of stroke and/or dementia as much as threefold. The sample size was relatively small, so more research is underway to determine the causal relationship between the sodas and the increased risk.
Diet soda may seem to be healthier than sodas containing sugar (calorie-free or low in calories), but it won’t necessarily help you lose weight. Back in 2013, researchers from the University of Texas found that over the course of about a decade, diet soda drinkers had a 70% greater increase in waist circumference compared with non-drinkers. The problem gets worse as consumption increases. Participants who consumed two or more sodas a day experienced a 500% greater increase.
In a 2016 study, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition followed 66,118 women for 14 years, keeping track of the drinks they consumed. At the conclusion of the study, both sugar-sweetened beverages and artificially sweetened beverages were linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. Additional recent studies have also shed light on strong associations between diet soda and factors that contribute to diabetes. These factors include weight gain and metabolic syndrome. An additional study posted in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society looked at long-term effects on waist size in diet soda drinkers. A total of 749 participants over the age of 65 were studied for 9.4 years. As the number of diet soda drinks increased, so did the waist circumference of participants. Participants who drank diet soda on a daily basis showed more than quadruple the waist gain than those who did not drink it. This shows a long-term link between diet soda consumption and belly fat. One of the top risk indicators for Type II diabetes is a high waist to hips ratio, so waist size is an important health metric.
A 2012 study found that daily drinkers of diet soda who were, on average, 69 years old had a 43% higher chance of heart attack, stroke or dying as a result of blood vessel problems.
Dr. Ankur Vyas is a fellow in cardiovascular disease at Univesity of Iowa Health Care Hospitals and Clinics and recently published his study on diet sodas. Despite the popularity of diet drinks, Dr. Vyas noticed that there was a lack of data concerning their health consequences. This is particularly true when it comes to cardiovascular health. During his study, he discovered that people who drank “two or more cans of diet soda a day were 30% more likely to have a cardiovascular event (e.g. heart attack) and 50% more likely to die of a heart-related disease than someone who drank none. This is one of the largest studies on this topic, and our findings are consistent with some previous data, especially those linking diet drinks to the metabolic syndrome,” said Dr. Vyas. This area has been studied less than the others mentioned here, and more research is underway analyzing cause and effect.
The bottom line is quite simply that evidence continues to be published showing connections between diet sodas and serious health issues, and none are coming forward showing any benefit.