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What May Be Some Negative Health Effects Of Diet Soda?

Last updated Oct. 25, 2016

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD MPH

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Diet sodas are sugar-free, zero-calorie or artificially sweetened beverages that some healthcare experts believe drinking moderate amounts daily may not affect one's health. However, there is still a raging debate on whether or not diet sodas contribute towards weight gain.


Diet sodas emerged as an alternative to regular soda and were marketed as sugar-free, zero-calorie or artificially sweetened beverages. A can of diet soda (12 fl oz) contains four calories, while a can of regular soda contains about 140 calories. However, there is still a raging debate on whether or not diet sodas contribute towards weight gain. Given the mixture of carbonated water, artificial sweeteners, synthetic chemicals like phosphoric acid and potassium citrate, and caffeine, are diet sodas truly healthy?

A ten-year study, conducted by researchers at the University of Miami and Columbia University, with nearly 2,500 participants concluded that regular daily drinkers of diet soda were more likely to die from a vascular disease or have a heart attack or stroke. Oftentimes, it is observed that such individuals may have a group of risk factors, like smoking, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and obesity or excess body fat, making them even more vulnerable to heart and vascular diseases. A report published in Diabetes Care based on the ‘Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis’ stated that daily drinkers of diet soda had a 36% higher chance of developing metabolic syndrome and a 67% higher chance of diabetes. Both metabolic syndrome and diabetes are contributory factors for a brain stroke or heart attack. However, the exact relationship connecting diet soda to these health conditions has not been established yet.

Mayo Clinic cautions that diet drinks are not for people suffering from phenylketonuria (PKU, a genetic disorder), tardive dyskinesia (a disorder causing involuntary movements of various body parts), sleep disorders, anxiety issues (even certain other mental health conditions), and individuals on certain medications (like neuroleptics and oxidase inhibitors). The artificial sweetener in diet soda, aspartame, contains a chemical component called phenylalanine that may produce harmful health effects (like brain damage and seizure) in individuals with pre-existing medical conditions, as mentioned previously.

Some healthcare experts inform that drinking moderate amounts of diet soda daily may not affect one’s health adversely, since currently there is strict government regulation and standard on what goes into a diet soda. There is also no strong evidence of any carcinogen use. Furthermore, substituting regular soda with diet soda may help to lower the calorie intake, though it does not aid in weight loss. Despite all these factors, food and nutrition experts typically recommend drinking water, green tea, and skimmed milk as an alternative to diet soda. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advocates providing healthier beverages to young children and youth and reducing access to sugar-sweetened beverages. There are no long-term health benefits with diet sodas, and given a choice, it is better to avoid drinking diet sodas.

References:

Nettleton, J. A., Lutsey, P. L., Wang, Y., Lima, J. A., Michos, E. D., & Jacobs, D. R. (2009). Diet soda intake and risk of incident metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Diabetes care, 32(4), 688-694.

Gardener, H., Rundek, T., Markert, M., Wright, C. B., Elkind, M. S., & Sacco, R. L. (2012). Diet soft drink consumption is associated with an increased risk of vascular events in the Northern Manhattan Study. Journal of general internal medicine, 27(9), 1120-1126.

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/diet-soda/faq-20057855 (accessed on 01/12/2015)

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/phenylalanine/faq-20058361 (accessed on 01/12/2015)

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/is-there-a-link-between-diet-soda-and-heart-disease-201202214296 (accessed on 01/12/2015)

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Nettleton, J. A., Lutsey, P. L., Wang, Y., Lima, J. A., Michos, E. D., & Jacobs, D. R. (2009). Diet soda intake and risk of incident metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Diabetes care, 32(4), 688-694.

Malik, V. S., Popkin, B. M., Bray, G. A., Després, J. P., Willett, W. C., & Hu, F. B. (2010). Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes a meta-analysis. Diabetes care, 33(11), 2477-2483.

Malik, V. S., Popkin, B. M., Bray, G. A., Després, J. P., & Hu, F. B. (2010). Sugar-sweetened beverages, obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular disease risk. Circulation, 121(11), 1356-1364.

Malik, V. S., & Hu, F. B. (2012). Sweeteners and risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes: the role of sugar-sweetened beverages. Current diabetes reports,12(2), 195-203.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Oct. 25, 2016
Last updated: Oct. 25, 2016