February 01, 2012
Diet Soft Drinks More Dangerous Than Sugary Drinks?

Could it be that all that flavor compromising is actually bad for you?

Individuals who drink diet soft drinks on a daily basis may be at increased risk of suffering vascular events such as stroke, heart attack, and vascular death. This is according to a new study by Hannah Gardener and her colleagues from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and at Columbia University Medical Center. However, in contrast, they found that regular soft drink consumption and a more moderate intake of diet soft drinks do not appear to be linked to a higher risk of vascular events. The research¹ appears online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine², published by Springer.

Join me as I laugh in the faces of those who claim artificially sweetened drinks are healthier than sugar-laden drinks. Ha! Go for the real flavor of high fructose corn syrup or even (if you know where to buy them) sucrose-sweetened drinks.

In the current climate of escalating obesity rates, artificially sweetened soft drinks are marketed as healthier alternatives to sugar-sweetened beverages, due to their lack of calories. However, the long-term health consequences of drinking diet soft drinks remain unclear.

I don't drink soft drinks at all. But this result makes me want to drink the real sugary stuff just so I can swig a sugary drink while knowingly smirking at someone nearby who is drinking diet Coke or diet Tab.

Gardener and team examined the relationship between both diet and regular soft drink consumption and risk of stroke, myocardial infarction (or heart attack), and vascular death. Data were analyzed from 2,564 participants in the NIH-funded Northern Manhattan Study, which was designed to determine stroke incidence, risk factors and prognosis in a multi-ethnic urban population. The researchers looked at how often individuals drank soft drinks - diet and regular - and the number of vascular events that occurred over a ten-year period.

The people who drink diet soft drinks are cruising for a vascular bruising.

They found that those who drank diet soft drinks daily were 43 percent more likely to have suffered a vascular event than those who drank none, after taking into account pre-existing vascular conditions such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes and high blood pressure. Light diet soft drink users, i.e. those who drank between one a month and six a week, and those who chose regular soft drinks were not more likely to suffer vascular events.

Better to drink beer, eat chocolate, and eat some grapes or cherries or strawberries. Also, I recommend pumpkin pie. All those carotenoids have got to be good for you. Why wait for Thanksgiving Day? I've eaten 2 pumpkin pies in the last week.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2012 February 01 10:19 PM  Aging Diet Heart Studies

Fat Man said at February 2, 2012 7:03 AM:

Maybe all these dietary studies are just recycled balderdash.

Me? I prefer hard drinks to soft drinks.

David A. Young said at February 2, 2012 8:09 AM:

Two WHOLE pumpkin pies????? Dude!

W. S. Rone said at February 2, 2012 8:37 AM:

What came first, the chicken or the egg? Are the people drinking diet drinks doing so because of underlying health problems or because they want to compensate for the excesses that they indulge in the rest of the time?

I have had type 1 DM for the last 43 years and I have used a lot of artificial sweeteners. I have little doubt that some or most of the sweeteners are bad for us in excess, but in my case excess sucrose is not good either. Don't get me started on High Fructose corn sweeteners.

I wholeheartedly agree that highly hopped beer, red wine, blueberries and other brightly colored fruits and vegetables are good for you

Ramez Naam said at February 2, 2012 12:03 PM:

Correlation is not causation. While a number of studies show a correlation between diet soda drinking and various health problems, it's hard to be confident that they accounted for all the unhealthy behaviors (double whopper, king size fries, and a diet) that go with drinking diet soda.

Meanwhile, the interventional studies, where they randomize people to full sugar soda, diet soda, or water, show no difference between diet soda and water, and a huge difference between either of those and sugary soda.

I'd rather drink a diet soda than a glass of orange juice, to be honest. The link between artificial sweeteners and health impacts is very tentative and has not been demonstrated to be causal. The link between sugar and ill health is profound and clear.

MC said at February 2, 2012 3:34 PM:

There's health and then there's looks. I would drink diet soda instead of sugary to slim down even if it made me ever-so-slightly less healthy.

And I think Ramez has it right with the "diet soda = burger king" point.

bbm said at February 2, 2012 4:37 PM:

These types of case control studies are crap. But they are cheap and easy to do, and provide researchers with easy to do studies that allow them to meet publishing quotas. At best, they can point to areas that require real research. Unfortunately no one is ever going to do a randomized controlled trial on diet drinks.

Darian Smith said at February 2, 2012 6:50 PM:

The thing is in lower animals at least the animals compensate for diet sugar substitutes by intaking excess calories later when given the chance. If similar happens in humans, the tendency to intake excess calories may be behind the effect.

Randall Parker said at February 2, 2012 7:38 PM:

David A. Young,

And I'm skinny. (knock on wood)

I can't always buy pumpkin pies in my regular supermarket. When I find them I tend to go overboard. Otherwise I have to make due with chocolate, strawberries, kiwi fruits, blueberries, and beer.


I should have said more than what's in this post above. There's a background of research that makes me react more favorably to the report above.

Some researchers believe artificial sweeteners mess up the brain's ability to regular caloric intake by confusing the brain about when it is really consuming calories. The brain might respond by basically turning up the cravings dial to get more calories. Also read later work by the same researchers Susan Swithers and Terry Davidson at Purdue's Ingestive Behavior Research Center.

I'm really reluctant to mess up my signaling systems with either artificial fats or artificial sweeteners. I also rarely drink anything other than water (beer excepted once or twice a week) as well since I figure our ancestors did not evolve with liquids as a major source of calories.

anonyq said at February 3, 2012 1:00 AM:

Soup/porridge was the way our ancestors got most of their calories

Karl said at February 3, 2012 7:45 AM:

So people who have heart disease try to limit sugar intake by choosing artificial sweeteners? No surprise - typical junk science. No arrow of causation is shown.

David A. Young said at February 3, 2012 9:52 AM:

Randall -- well, that's OK then. :-> Most purchased pumpkin pies are too bland for me. I buy the Libby's canned stuff and then spice it up a bit. Definitely Good Eats.

PacRim Jim said at February 4, 2012 3:19 PM:

Simple: What I like is healthy. Don't, not.

Fitz said at February 5, 2012 3:42 PM:

Well. You've got to be more discerning about these sort of studies, which of course 99% of the population isn't, which is the problem. And when the source says "implies a *potential* link", what they mean is they don't really know yet.

What this story is *probably* telling you is that fat people drink diet soda more than thin people. For one thing, correlation doesn't imply causation. To imply causation, you also need to find a good empirically determinined physical mechanism or a very very plausible theoretical mechanism as well.

For the moment though, 1) Fat People drink more diet soda, 2) Fat People have more disease problems. Seems to be the most logical explanation here. Anecdotally (and hence not scientifically valid), all of my friends who are thin drink the sugar variety of soft drinks, and most of my overweight friends drink sugarfree. Just seems to be way the more plausible explanation.


Mike Bluestone said at February 7, 2012 11:14 AM:

Thanks for the article. I am a personal trainer/weight loss coach and I am constantly preaching "no to diet soda" but seldom do they listen. I will be sure to use this article next time I blog about it.

Elmas said at February 9, 2012 9:41 AM:

As a type 1 diabetic, I love diet soft drinks. I thank them for a chance to taste something sweet without having my blood glucose levels jump. A "healthier" regular sugared soda or fruit juice would kill me. So hurray for diet coke!

RS said at February 9, 2012 12:16 PM:

Yep, and people carrying umbrellas cause rain.

People drink diet soda for a reason OTHER than taste.
Like they are concerned about something... like gaining weight.

hmmm... could their metabolic propensity to gain weight be an issue?
Of course not, dogma dictates it's the diet soda.

Chris said at March 5, 2012 11:12 AM:

Frequently omitted was the finding that people who drank MORE than one diet soda per day, sometimes much more, saw a risk of heart disease and stroke NO HIGHER than those who drank a single diet soda. This lends credence to the notion that...
Drinking diet soda doesn't cause health problems.
Health problems, having a weight problem in particular, cause people to drink diet soda!
It's like the old finding that people who drink wine are healthier than those who drink beer. Actually those who are more affluent, better educated and in better health are more likely to drink wine thank drink beer!
Cause... effect...
Actually all the study says is that there is a "link" between health problems and diet soft drinks. It does not say which causes which.

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