For a long time, it seemed as if artificial sweeteners were a thing of beauty. After all, you get a near-identical taste of sugar, but this time, without the calories.
If you love your soda but want to lose weight at the same time, these ‘diet’ drinks with artificial sweeteners seem like the perfect and healthier option, don’t they? Especially considering there are about 150 calories in a regular can of soda, and almost none in a ‘diet coke’.
While the calories may have gone away thanks to artificial sweeteners, not all the health risks have.
A recent study at the Boston University performed large-scale tests on diet soda drinkers, regular soda drinkers, and non-soda drinkers, and the results might surprise you.
People who consume artificially flavored drinks have an increased risk of stroke and dementia, as it has a negative effect on the brain.
The study is most certainly relevant, as the abstract of the research paper reads:
“Americans love sugar. Together we consumed nearly 11 million metric tons of it in 2016, according to the US Department of Agriculture, much of it in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages like sports drinks and soda.”
In other words, the popular sugar substitutes such as aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin aren’t as healthy as they might seem – even though they’re not identical and the way the human body digests all these different sweeteners is incredibly complex.
The test study was performed on almost 3,000 adults, which would make the findings pretty representative.
Of course, not every study is foolproof and perfect, but it gives us a pretty good overview of the effects of sweeteners on our health.
The relationship between drinking artificially flavored soda and dementia and stroke is significant: the risk is almost triple as much.
Other unhealthy factors were already taken into account, such as the amount of exercise, smoking, the nutritional quality of the diet, and unhealthy eating.
Sudha Seshadri, MD, the senior study author, and neurology professor at Boston University, specializes in Alzheimer’s Disease and explains how we can best interpret these results.
There’s a very strong suggestion between these two factors and the study praises good old-fashioned water as the healthy option.
“These studies are not the be-all and end-all, but it’s strong data and a very strong suggestion. It looks like there is not very much of an upside to having sugary drinks, and substituting the sugar with artificial sweeteners doesn’t seem to help. Maybe good old-fashioned water is something we need to get used to.”
Aside from the effects on the brain, this study also revealed a number of other things that are correlated to the usage of diet soda. For example, people who consumed four or more beverages a day were 30% more likely to develop depression. There’s also a relationship between long-term drinking and kidney function.
Even though it’s not real sugar, there’s also an increased risk to develop type 2 diabetes. In fact, diet soda drinkers are 67% more likely to get Type 2 diabetes compared to non-diet beverages.
Aside from people who drink ‘diet soda’ with artificial sweeteners, the research paper also contains a large section about the effects of regular soda.
Regular soda, with real sugar, didn’t have a strong correlation with an increased risk of dementia or stroke, and definitely not as much as with artificial sweeteners. However, regular soda clearly has its fair share of other health issues caused by the excess sugar.
There’s plenty of research about the effects of (excess) sugar already, but it’s definitely interesting to see how it compares to its artificial siblings.
Furthermore, this study focuses more on the effects of the human brain, while other studies tend to focus on cardiovascular effects.
Heart disease and other metabolic damage are known main risk factors when consuming too much sugar, but it has a huge effect on the brain as well.
Thanks to both a cognitive test as well as using MRI scans, we now know drinking too much (regular) soda actually makes the brain smaller. The size of the hippocampus decreases significantly, and it also makes the brain age faster.
All of this results in poor memory performance and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The relationship is less strong if you only drink one soda a day, but most definitely still there.
In conclusion, there aren’t a lot of positive things to say about either diet soda or regular soda.
There’s a huge relationship between drinking diet soda and the risk of stroke and dementia, as well as brain volume. Both normal sugar and artificial sweeteners increase the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease as well.
The study actually recommends to drink less soda, and if you can, drink none at all. Luckily, there are plenty of healthy alternatives.
If you’d rather not opt for the basic and boring water, there are always other options such as tea, tonic, or fizzy kombucha drinks.
One thing is for sure: diet soda definitely isn’t a miraculous drink and has its problems too!
If you’d like to take an in-depth look at the research paper, you can check out the conclusion of the researchers over at Science Daily.
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