The Dangers of Diet Soda

Studies link this low-cal beverage to untimely and chunkier deaths.

We’ve been asking the question for over a decade: Is diet soda bad for us? Science seems to keep answering: yes! 

Numerous studies have linked these low-calorie beverages to increased risk of heart conditions, brain conditions, liver problems, and metabolic issues. Okay, we already kind of knew that, right? Soda is bad, strokes are bad, heart attacks are bad. 

But did you know that diet pop is actually altering your brain?

That’s right. This zero-calorie alternative is retraining your brain to react positively to sweets, making you crave more of those bad foods. 

Feed Me, (More) Seymoure.

A study published in 2012 takes a deeper dive into the correlation between diet soda and the brain’s response. 

“Diet soda drinkers demonstrated greater activation to sweet taste in the dopaminergic midbrain (including ventral tegmental area) and right amygdala,” the study explains. “Saccharin elicited a greater response in the right orbitofrontal cortex relative to sucrose in non-diet soda drinkers. Within the diet soda drinkers, fMRI activation of the right caudate head in response to saccharin was negatively associated with the amount of diet sodas consumed per week; individuals who consumed a greater number of diet sodas had reduced caudate head activation.”

In layman’s terms, there were changes in the reward processing part of the brain when it came to sweet taste. Those who regularly drank diet soda had greater activation in their amygdala than non-diet soda drinkers. Meaning, they craved the sweet taste more! 

In a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), scientists looked into the effects diet soda had on the cerebellum by introducing rats to it. They created a control group, a group that received 50ml of regular soda a day, and a group that received 50ml of diet soda a day.

The results were mind-blowing.

“Histological result of the sections of the cerebellum showed shrunken and degenerated Purkinje cells with hypertrophied dendrites, especially in the DS group, which was less in the RS group compared to the control group,” the study concluded. 

Consuming diet soda had “adverse effects” on the cerebellum of the rats. 

A different study found that people who drank diet soda had a higher body mass index (BMI) than those who didn’t. In fact, those who switched to diet soda started consuming more calories in food, than people who were overweight and drinking regular soda. 

Here’s the biggest bummer. Not only is diet soda actually making you fatter, but it’s killing you quickly, too. 

A 2019 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine studied over 450,000 individuals from ten different European countries to learn more about how artificial sweetener consumption was affecting their long term health. 

Consumers were 26% more likely to die prematurely, than those who laid off the sugar-free drinks. 

“At this point, you probably want to go with water, tea or unsweetened coffee and not take a chance on beverages we don’t know much about,” said Dr. Jim Krieger, Director of Healthy Food America. “Certainly, you don’t want to drink sugary beverages because we know that these aren’t good for you.”

The Big Bad (Cola) Wolf

So why do we keep drinking it?

Because big soda companies want you to. And they’re great at rebranding “early death” into “limited summer flavor.” 

Take Coca-Cola for example. 

After doing some intensive market research, executives at Coca-Cola thought millennials could fix their six-year slump of diet cola sales. They created four new flavors that were meant to appeal toward the millennial generation’s flair for bright colors and flavorful tastes.

And it worked. 

“It grew in revenue and it grew in volume,” CEO of Coca-Cola James Quincy told CNBC. “I think it’s a combination of some marketing inviting reconsideration for a generation where perhaps not all of them connected to Diet Coke. They found something that they like in what is ultimately a great-tasting beverage.”

These big companies even fund studies that will argue soda consumption really isn’t bad in moderation. 

A great example is this study that broke in March of 2020. Scientists announced that “diet soda itself may not cause weight gain,” after studying common artificial sweetener, sucralose. They announced diet soda is fine (until you combine it with any other carb intake). 

“Theoretically, that means you could enjoy a sucralose-sweetened diet soda without negatively changing your body’s metabolism if you drank it all by itself – as long as it wasn’t too close to eating a carb, of course,” CNN explains. 

But the researchers failed to find out how long consumers would have to wait until they could eat something else, or the results or learn about any of the other dozen artificial sweeteners that big companies are still using.

The researchers also found that mixing carbs and sucralose led to some pretty high stakes when for neural and metabolic conditioning. 

“The regulator in the brain that controls how nutrients are being metabolized was changed, not only when the subjects are consuming the drink, but when they were just having another sweet thing or a salty and a savory thing,” said study author and neuropsychologist, Dana Small. 

The researchers even had to cut off the adolescent part of the study, due to fear of changing their body chemistry for the worst. 

Of the three adolescents they had studied, they found two went from a completely normal insulin level to a prediabetic range in just two weeks. 

Artificial Benefits 

Science seems to have proven repeatedly that switching to artificial sugar is leading to artificial benefits. While we may be saving on calories in our mid-afternoon pickup beverage, we’re actually hurting our bodies long term, and altering our brains to make us consume those sweet, sweet calories elsewhere.

It seems it’s time to kick the habit- or at least switch to regular Coke (in moderation).

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