Tech + Health

07.13.13

There Are Dangers in Drinking Diet Soda

A new study says the artificial sweeteners in soda can cause serious health problems, including weigh gain. Is that enough to make you give up Diet Coke? Eliza Shapiro reports.

More bad news for dieters: your Diet Coke isn’t any better for you than regular soda.

A new study has found that the artificial sweeteners in diet soda can cause weight gain, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and heart disease, adding to mounting research about the potential health risks of diet soft drinks.

And that’s not all—the study also found that the artificial sweeteners in diet soda can interfere with your body’s normal response to sugar, deregulating normal blood sugar levels even more than regular soda.

That’s because the fake sugar essentially tricks your body into thinking you’re taking in the calories associated with the sweet taste. But that means the body doesn’t know how to process real sugar—and fails to release the hormone that controls blood sugar and blood pressure.

The study, conducted by researchers at Purdue University, incorporated 40 years of research on the effects of artificial sweeteners and the health problems associated with diet soda.

No surprise: the American Beverage Association begs to differ. “Low-calorie sweeteners are some of the most studied and reviewed ingredients in the food supply today,” said the ABA said in a statement. “They are safe and an effective tool in weight loss and weight management, according to decades of scientific research and regulatory agencies around the globe.”

The ABA noted that the Purdue research was technically published as an opinion piece, not a scientific study.

But Susan Swithers, the author of the Purdue study, issued her own statement, noting that soda drinkers aren’t always given the correct facts about the health consequences of drinking diet soda. "It is not uncommon for people to be given messages that artificially sweetened products are healthy, will help them lose weight, or will help prevent weight gain," Swithers said. "The data to support those claims are not very strong, and although it seems like common sense that diet sodas would not be as problematic as regular sodas, common sense is not always right."

Swithers’ study adds to mounting research about the possible dangers of diet soda.

“Although it seems like common sense that diet sodas would not be as problematic as regular sodas, common sense is not always right."

One recent report in General Dentristy found that heavy consumption diet soft drinks can erode teeth as much as much as crystal meth or crack cocaine.

A 2012 study found that drinking a diet soda every day can lead to strokes, heart disease, and is often associated with other unhealthy behaviors.

And a 2010 study found a link between women who drank diet soda while pregnant and the risk of preterm delivery.

Maybe someone should have clued in the 31-year-old woman who suffered heart problems after drinking only soda for 16 years about the risks of diet soda.

Then there is the unidentified woman in Monaco who was taken to the hospital after a fainting spell and told doctors that she hadn’t drunk water since she was 15 years old—just diet soda, and about two liters of it per day.

Doctors found the woman had extremely low potassium levels and a heart condition called QT syndrome which can cause erratic heart beats. She had no family history of heart problems.

The woman was told to stop drinking soda for one week—and her symptoms disappeared.