One out of every five Americans drinks diet soda every day 1. That’s a lot of people!
Considering that these drinks are made with artificial sweeteners and so widely consumed, investigating their healthiness is important.
In recent years, concerns arose after diet soda’s effects on heart health were examined. But were these concerns justified?
The Study In Question
Researchers organized a large scale study involving 60,000 post-menopausal women and examined whether consuming diet soft drinks was associated with more cardiovascular problems.
The study did find that postmenopausal women who consume two or more diet soda drinks a day had a 30% higher chance of cardiovascular “events”
So it is likely that diet soft drinks do increase our chances of running into heart trouble. After all, researchers “adjusted” for other variables that could have been causing heart problems in these women’s lives 1.
Other lifestyle habits that could have confounded the results were ruled out. But this process of “adjusting” is not perfect and researchers still acknowledged the possibility that other factors could contribute to increased heart problems.
However, this correlation between cardiovascular trouble and soft drinks gives us a probable indication that these drinks could be harming our health. But, of course, correlation doesn't equal causation.
If we could identify a reason why diet drinks could harm heart health, that would lend more weight to the evidence and procure a greater understanding of the effects of artificial sweeteners.
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Why Would Soft Drinks Cause Heart Trouble?
Researchers speculate, with backing evidence from animal and human studies, that diet sodas “may increase the desire for sugar-sweetened, energy-dense beverages/foods” 1.
MRI brain scans in humans have shown that diet soda drinkers have “greater” dopamine “activation” when consuming sweet foods2!
That means that diet soda could cause more intense pleasure when people eat sugary foods, leading drinkers to over-consume these unhealthy treats.
Extra sugar can be terrible for heart health - for example, researchers have found that people who consume high amounts of sugar have a much higher chance of dying from heart disease3.
Excessive sugar intake triggers many damaging processes in the cardiovascular system that could increase risk of heart disease like inflammation, oxidative stress, and glycation 4.
So that’s a likely possibility as to why diet soft drinks could contribute to heart trouble.
More Research On Diet Sweeteners’ Harmful Effects
Additional research has shown specific effects of non-caloric sweeteners that could harm heart health.
The artificial sweetener sucralose causes an increased release of glucose and insulin into the blood after eating 5. Why is that bad? Excessive insulin and glucose can damage the cardiovascular system
and many studies have implicated high insulin as playing a central role in cardiovascular disease <6.
Another sweetener in diet sodas, aspartame, has been shown to increase food consumption as well as increase blood sugar spikes after meals 7.
Do You Need Diet Soda?
If you drink diet soft drinks, you could be playing with fire. Since when was any artificial or processed food good for us anyways?
There are plenty of refreshing drinks out there to choose from that don’t mess with your metabolism and increase your risk of heart trouble. Drink some healthy tea, carbonated water, kombucha, or some other natural beverage. Or even plain but good old water!