Many people choose to take the risk of chemicals in their diet sodas because their greater concern is weight control. Parents are even feeding diet sodas to their children in the belief that it will avert obesity. Sadly, artificial sweeteners in diet sodas may be having the exact opposite effect, adding inches to the American waistline.
Two studies presented at the American Diabetes Association's Scientific Sessions in San Diego this week suggest that drinking diet sodas might be a self-defeating behavior for dieters.
Epidemiologists from the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio reported that diet soft drink consumption is associated with increased waist circumference in humans.
"Data from this and other prospective studies suggest that the promotion of diet sodas and artificial sweeteners as healthy alternatives may be ill-advised," said Helen P. Hazuda, Ph.D., professor and chief of the Division of Clinical Epidemiology in the School of Medicine. "They may be free of calories but not of consequences."
The Health Science Center team assessed data from 474 participants in the San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging, or SALSA, over about 10 years. The researchers compared long-term change in waist circumference for diet soda users versus non-users.
Diet soft drink users, as a group, experienced 70 percent greater increases in waist circumference compared with non-users. Frequent users, who said they consumed two or more diet sodas a day, experienced waist circumference increases that were 500 percent greater than those of non-users.
Abdominal fat is a major risk factor for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and other chronic conditions. "These results suggest that, amidst the national drive to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks, policies that would promote the consumption of diet soft drinks may have unintended deleterious effects," the authors wrote.
More and more diet sodas are relying on aspartame as their sweetener. Aspartame is also sold as a sweetener under the brand names NutraSweet and Equal. A related laboratory mouse study found that mice fed aspartame showed elevated fasting blood sugar levels but equal or diminished insulin levels, consistent with the type of imbalance that ultimately leads to diabetes.
"These results suggest that heavy aspartame exposure might potentially directly contribute to increased blood glucose levels, and thus contribute to the associations observed between diet soda consumption and the risk of diabetes in humans," said one of the researchers.
Aspartame has been reported to cause side effects that include headache and bloating, but also mood disturbances such as depression, irritability, confusion, anxiety attacks, insomnia and phobias.
Lots of good reasons to pass on the diet sodas and artificial sweeteners in general.