Ditch the Diet Soda

Diet soda may be linked to metabolic syndrome.

If your strategy for losing weight is to guzzle diet soda throughout the day, you may be fighting a losing battle. Researchers have found a link between diet soda and metabolic syndrome, which refers to a group of symptoms including high cholesterol, excess belly fat, and increased blood sugar—all of which are associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes.[1]

In fact, research indicates that individuals who consume just one can of diet soda per day have a 34 percent higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome than those who abstain. It’s still unclear whether this increased risk is tied to an ingredient in the diet soda or a shared behavior among diet soda drinkers—but one thing is clear, abstaining is a good idea.

If metabolic syndrome isn’t enough of a deterrent, a new study presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference in Los Angeles found that people who drank diet soda every day had a 61 percent higher risk of vascular events, including stroke and heart attack, than those who completely abstained. The controversial study caused an uproar—especially among doctors who cautioned people not to be too hasty to jump to conclusions based on the results of one study.[2]

However, the data is compelling—the increased likelihood of vascular events remained even after researchers accounted for other risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Furthermore, there was no increased risk among individuals who drank regular soda.

Researchers have yet to identify a reason for the apparent link—it may be that individuals who drink a lot of diet soda have other bad habits that increase their risk for cardiovascular disease or it may be that diet sodas contain an ingredient that harms blood vessels. Some attention is focused on the caramel coloring contained in diet sodas, which could be linked to vascular problems. Research will likely be ongoing in order to continue to evaluate the link.

In the meantime, it’s never a bad idea to limit consumption of diet soda—especially in individuals who are at high risk for cardiovascular disease or diabetes. Of course, all of use could benefit from drinking more water in place of drinks that provide no health benefits and potential health risks.

Reference:

[1] Lutsey PL, Steffen LM, Stevens J. Dietary Intake and the Development of the Metabolic Syndrome. Circulation. 2008;117:754-761.

[2] Gardener H, et al. Soda consumption and risk of vascular events in the Northern Manhattan Study. American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2011; Abstract P55.

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