Brace yourself, lovers of diet sodas and sugary drinks. It’s more bad news and yet another reason to consider ditching your favourite soft drink.
A new study followed more than 450,000 people from 10 European countries for up to 19 years and found those who drank two or more glasses of any type of soda a day had a higher risk of dying from any cause of death than people who drank less than a glass each month. None of the people had cancer, diabetes, heart disease or stroke before their participation.
The study, published in September in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, found men and women who drank two or more glasses a day of sugar-sweetened soft drinks had a higher risk of dying from digestive disorders, while those who drank the same amount of diet drinks had higher risks of dying from cardiovascular disease.
The link to digestive disease in the study is interesting, said Dr Sharon Horesh Bergquist, an assistant professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
“Experimental evidence suggests that high blood sugar and high sugar intake can impair the gut barrier, leading to a ‘leaky gut’ and access to the gut immune system causing intestinal inflammation, alter gut microbiota and increase susceptibility to gut infections,” she said. “These pathways may increase susceptibility to digestive diseases.”
Total soft drink consumption in the study was also associated with an increased risk for Parkinson’s disease, but not with Alzheimer’s or cancer.
Soft drinks were defined as “low calorie or diet fizzy soft drinks”, “fizzy soft drinks,” such as cola and lemonade, and “fruit squash or cordials,” which are non-alcoholic concentrated syrups typically mixed with sugar and water. In this study, one glass of soft drink was 8 fluid ounces, or 250 millilitres; the typical can of soda around the world holds 12 fluid ounces or 355 millilitres.
The end of a love affair?
This large, long-term study is yet another in a growing list of research that is sounding the alarm on our love affair with carbonated soft drinks.
In February, the American Heart Association released a study that found drinking two or more of any kind of artificially sweetened drinks a day is linked to an increased risk of clot-based strokes, heart attacks and early death in women over 50. The risks were highest for women with no history of heart disease or diabetes and women who were obese or African-American.
Previous research has shown a link between diet beverages and stroke, dementia, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome, which can lead to heart disease and diabetes.
In March, a study published in the journal Circulation used data from 80,500 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study and nearly 40,000 men from the Health Professionals study. It found that women who drank more than two servings a day of sugary beverages — defined as a standard glass, bottle or can — had a 63% increased risk of premature death compared to women who drank them less than once a month. Men who did the same had a 29 percent increase in risk.
Those who consumed more than one sugary beverage per month but fewer than two per day seemed to experience a dose effect: The more they drank, the greater the risk.
Substituting one sugary beverage per day with an artificially sweetened one was found to lower the risk of premature death, but drinking four or more artificially sweetened beverages increased the risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease in women. The same effect was not seen for men, and it was not seen for the risk of dying from cancer.
While the studies above didn’t see an association between soft drinks and cancer, another study published in the BMJ in July did. The research followed more than 100,000 French adults and found drinking just a small glass of a sugary drink per day – 100 ml, about a third of a typical can of soda – to an 18 percent increase in overall cancer risk and a 22 percent increase in risk for breast cancer.
Only an association
This study, as well as other research on the connection between diet and sugary beverages and health risks, is observational and cannot show cause and effect. That’s a major limitation, researchers say, as it’s impossible to determine whether the association is due to a specific artificial sweetener, a type of beverage, obesity or another hidden health issue.
“The cause behind these associations isn’t clear,” said Bergquist. “Other potential biological causes could be attributed to experimental evidence linking consumption of artificial sweeteners to sugar cravings, appetite stimulation and glucose intolerance.”
Robert Rankin, president of the Calorie Control Council, a trade group for low-calorie and diet foods and beverages, said in a statement that “low- and no-calorie sweeteners have a long safety record and are important tool for weight management and those managing diabetes. This study paints an inaccurate picture of the important role of these products for consumers.” ((Agencies)