- Nutrition -

Diet Soda Debacles

A roundup of the potential health problems from diet soda consumption.

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A growing number of studies link the consumption of diet soda to weight gain, higher BMI and a host of other potential health problems. Here is a roundup of some of the recent findings:

Calcium loss — A study by Noelle Larson, MD, at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, showed that diet soda leaches calcium from our bodies. Over the course of two days, Larson had 20 healthy young women drink 24 ounces of diet soda. (The control group drank only water.) Three hours after the diet-soda-drinking group had their last soda, Larson analyzed the women’s urine: The diet-soda group lost on average 6.85 milligrams more calcium and 41 milligrams more phosphorous than the water-drinking control group.

Neurological damage — The short-term effects of the synthetic sweetener aspartame, which is used in many diet sodas, can include headaches, mood swings, dizziness and memory loss. But the real danger, says Sharon Fowler, MPH, a researcher at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, might be the long-term, cumulative effects of drinking the artificial sugar substitute. Studies have linked high intake of aspartame to developing lymphoma, leukemia, cancerous tumors of the liver and peripheral nerves, and nerve-cell death within the brain.

Metabolic syndrome — Drinking diet soda increases the risk of developing metabolic syndrome by 34 percent, research indicates. Metabolic syndrome is a group of symptoms that includes extra weight around the midsection, elevated insulin levels and increased blood pressure. When these symptoms occur together, they put a person at greater risk for diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses.

(For more on diet soda and weight gain, read “Poor Substitutes.”)

UPDATE:

The article above spurred spirited conversation among our readers (see comments section, below). Our response, below, replies to the concerns raised by one reader who questioned the validity of the research we referenced in our coverage. For your convenience, you’ll also find links to the full studies below.

Thanks for your feedback, Tech Talker. We appreciate your point of view.

Here’s our take: While it is true (and typical of evolving scientific investigations) that not all studies in this area have reached the same conclusions, a growing body of research continues to highlight the potential dangers in drinking diet soda, and this is particularly true of research not connected to industry interests. We believe it’s important to highlight this research for health-conscious readers who want to make informed decisions about what they eat and drink.

We would also like to point out that on the Duke page you reference (as well as the other blogs and resources turned up in your quick Google search), most of the experts quoted largely conclude that “more research is called for.” They do not refute the studies we report on or directly oppose their conclusions; these individuals simply posit that, as of yet, the scientific jury is still out and the evidence is not, in their view, conclusive.

In our view, there has long been enough evidence for concern, and to merit our ongoing research and reporting on the topic. What we discovered in our most recent investigation of this topic is that the majority of the research we cited in “Diet Soda Debacles” supports a significant body of earlier research with similar findings.

For example, the study by Noelle Larson, MD, that shows that diet soda can contribute to calcium loss was preceded by a 2003 study by Tufts researcher Katharine Tucker, PhD, that linked soda consumption (including diet and caffeine-free varieties) with decreased bone density. A 2006 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition surveyed 1,413 women and 1,125 men for bone mineral density and found an association between soda drinkers and reduced bone density. Likewise, a long string of studies have linked aspartame to possible neurological dangers. A 1996 study by Washington University Medical school called aspartame “a promising candidate” to explain the increase in malignant brain tumors. For those interested, we’ve provided links to several additional, well-regarded studies on diet soda’s link to metabolic syndrome and obesity.

In conclusion, we’d like to emphasize that in our coverage of this and other health-related issues, we rely on well-vetted research from peer-reviewed journals, and we fact-check our reporting carefully. We understand that not all of our readers, or all experts, will agree with our conclusions in every instance, and we welcome opportunities for thoughtful debate. That said, based on our review of the research to date, we feel comfortable standing by our reporting on this important topic.

 

Additional Studies (PDFs):

 

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