What you May Not Know about Diet Soda

As you relax in front of the TV with your sandwich, chips and large diet soda you may think to yourself, “This meal isn’t as bad since I switched over to diet”.  But is this really true? Recent studies suggest that diet soda may not be the healthier alternative after all.  Most popular diet drinks also increase your risk of diabetes, stroke, myocardial infarction (heart attack) and vascular death to an alarming extent.

 To begin with, there is nothing “diet” about diet soda.  The impact they may have on your health includes the following:

  1. They increase your appetite, leading to weight gain and a host of risk factors for cardiovascular events.
  2. They can increase your risk for osteoporosis; diet soda contains phosphoric acid, which prevents the absorption of calcium in your body.
  3. They contain aspartame, which has 92 known side effects alone according to FDA data.  Aspartame (found in NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful, Benevia, Equal Measure, Canderel, etc.) can be broken down into three amino acid components: phenylalanine, methanol and aspartate.  These are further broken down into metabolites which are toxic to the body. Methanol breaks down into formaldehyde and L-phenylalanine – known to be carcinogenic and neurotoxic.
  4. The caramel coloring used is linked to vascular problems.  This substance promotes insulin resistance which is needed to process calories.  It is also correlated with causing inflammation in the body.
  5. The high fructose corn syrup used is genetically engineered, and we still don’t know all of the long-term health impacts of genetically modified foods.

One study which followed more than 2500 multiethnic people for nine or more years, found that people who drank diet soda every day increased their chances for strokes, heart attacks, and vascular events by 61%.  The risk also increased for metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of risk factors that occur together, including excessive fat around the waist, low levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL) and high blood pressure.  Adults and children who drink either regular or diet soda increase their likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome by 50%.  Those with metabolic syndrome have double the risk for heart issues and stroke, and an increased risk for developing diabetes.  Those who drink at least one soft drink a day also have a 31% greater risk of becoming obese.  An increased waist circumference, yields stronger predictions towards heart disease than weight gain alone.  There is also a 25% increased risk of developing high blood triglycerides and high blood sugar, and a 32% higher risk of having low HDL (the “good” cholesterol) levels.

Those with increased risk factors for vascular disease can help by reducing their consumption of diet soda.  These risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking, a family history of cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome.

If that isn’t enough, the carbonation in soft drinks, which is present in both regular and diet versions, also robs the body of nutrients and minerals, especially calcium.  These drinks also contain significant fluorides, which deplete the body of iodine and cause the thyroid gland to slow down metabolism.

The added artificial sweetener acts like monosodium glutamate (MSG) in the body, which is known to increase feelings of hunger.  What happens is that the non-sugar sweeteners confuse your brain because the taste receptors in your mouth feel something sweet and trigger a cascade that includes preparing for insulin secretion to utilize the perceived glucose.  While there are less calories present in diet soda, and therefore theoretically this should help with weigh reduction, since there is no glucose present, your brain ultimately notes this and you end up craving carbohydrates for the sugar rush.  Some diet sodas actually contain even more caffeine so your body still feels this rush, despite the lack of sugar.  Moreover, the initial perceived sweetness may actually cause the hypothalamus gland in your brain to direct the pancreas to secrete insulin.   However, because there is no glucose, insulin resistance develops as the body is unable to properly use the produced insulin.

Caffeine, which is a stimulant, causes your adrenal glands to produce cortisol – the stress hormone.  A rise in cortisol will stimulate significant energy production by releasing amino acids, glucose and fatty acids into the blood stream.  The problem is that your body is in a state of stress and tries to work hard to compensate.

Over the years, aspartame has been linked to an array of conditions including multiple sclerosis, Gulf War Syndrome, epilepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, Epstein Barr syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, mental retardation, lymphoma, and birth defects.  Some of the symptoms associated with these conditions are: headaches, dizziness, irritability, anxiety attacks, vertigo, epileptic seizures, irrational rage, numbness, tingling, fatigue, blurred vision, blindness, hearing loss, loss of taste, slurred speech, mood alterations, depression, insomnia, cognitive or physical delay, memory loss, heart palpitations, muscle spasms, choking spasms, miscarriages, sexual dysfunction, rashes and/or joint pain.  While the validity of all of these associations has not been by any means unanimously confirmed in studies, they are worth noting as theorized possibilities.

 On the basis of this information, we as clinicians have a duty to advise patients and consumers of the above risks, particularly towards those who perceive diet soda as being “healthier” than regular soda.  We should recommend replacing diet sodas with healthier alternatives and concentrating on an overall healthier diet and exercise routine.


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