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When you’re searching for a drink with a bit of caffeine to give you a boost for the day, you might be tempted to reach for a diet soda, believing it to be a healthier choice than coffee concoctions or other sugary drinks. Yes, diet soda has zero calories and is an inexpensive and tasty way to get your caffeine fix. However, the health effects associated with consuming it are more serious than you think. Headaches, cravings, mood swings and more are the results of drinking diet soda too frequently. Here are some facts about the health risks of diet soft drinks that might make you rethink your beverage of choice.
Many diet sodas are sweetened with aspartame, an artificial sweetener that is sweeter than sugar. New flavors of Diet Coke first released in 2018 are sweetened with “Ace-K,” a controversial sweetener that tastes 200 times sweeter than regular refined sugar. Some studies have linked the sweeteners in diet soda to headaches, suggesting they might trigger the pain. Studies have also shown that people who consume foods with artificial sweeteners are more likely to shun healthier food options for other artificially flavored food.
It may not be greasy or sugary, but diet soda is still one of the foods and drinks that can cause breakouts. Diet soda can dry out your skin, making you more prone to acne and dark circles. If you’re suffering from dry skin, consider swapping diet soda for a glass of water or a cup of tea instead.
A 2013 study conducted by the National Institutes of Health indicated a correlation between the consumption of diet soda and a higher chance of a depression diagnosis. Soda drinkers overall were 30% more likely to be depressed, and diet soda added another 22% of risk into the equation.
In a 2006 study, it was concluded that women who drank diet soda had significantly lower bone mineral density than those who abstained. Low bone mineral density can set you up for osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to become weak and brittle.
Gut health is important. The healthier your gut, the healthier your digestive tract. And the healthier your digestive tract, the easier it is for your body to properly digest food. However, a 2014 study published in the scientific journal Nature revealed that diet soda may disrupt your gut health. Your gut has a balance of "good" and "bad" bacteria. According to the study, the artificial sweeteners that are included in diet soda may alter the type and function of the bacteria in your gut microbiome.
A 2016 study published by the Canadian Science journal revealed that aspartame, the artificial sweetener used in many diet sodas, decreases the activity of certain enzymes in your gut. The decrease in enzymes can lead to metabolic syndrome, a “cluster of conditions” that can cause weight fluctuations, heart disease, stroke and even death. Diet soda increases your risk of metabolic syndrome by more than 30% and, according to a study published by the American Diabetes Association, is also linked to the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Even if you’re worried about calories, you may not want to opt for a diet soda as a mixer in your favorite cocktail. A diet soda mixed with any sort of spirit is likely to make you more intoxicated than the liquor would when combined with a different mixer. Studies have shown that alcoholic drinks mixed with diet soda results in higher blood alcohol concentrations. The sugar used in regular sweet drinks, like soda, slows down the absorption of alcohol in the bloodstream, but the artificial sweeteners used in diet soda don’t have this effect.
Increased consumption of diet soda can interfere with your sense of taste, according to a study conducted by researchers at San Diego University. Twenty-four diet soda and non-diet soda drinkers were given intermittent sips of sugar water and artificially sweetened water and asked to rank the drink’s enjoyability. The brain’s reaction to both drinks among diet soda drinkers was nearly identical, meaning their brain’s reward system was incapable of differentiating between sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Diet soda drinkers may be more likely to experience high blood pressure compared to those who avoid the beverage, according to a study out of Brazil. Adolescents from 20 public schools were examined to investigate the correlation between diet soda consumption and high blood pressure. Researchers were able to conclude that adolescents who drank diet soda had a higher blood pressure than those who drank non-diet soft drinks or no soda at all. So, even if you enjoy certain foods and drinks that help lower blood pressure, your best bet is to avoid diet soda.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, diet soda could be bad news for your kidneys. One study determined that women who drank several diet sodas a day showed a significant decline in kidney function.
People have a biological addictive response to drinking diet soda. Dopamine and glutamate, two neurotransmitters in the brain’s reward center, are released after you take a sip in response to the caffeine and aspartame that are in the drink. The chemicals in diet soda convince your brain to crave it over and over to feel the same sense of joy you did when you had it previously.
Just because it’s calorie-free doesn’t mean diet soda is an effective weight-loss tool. A 2015 study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that diet soda drinkers age 65 and older actually gained triple the abdominal fat compared to their peers who didn’t consume the drink.
A University of Miami study found that regularly drinking diet soda can significantly escalate your risk of a heart attack, while regular soda drinkers did not have as strong of a risk.
A 2016 study published in JAMA Pediatrics examined more than 3,000 pregnant women and their infant children one year after birth. Mothers who drank diet soda were two times more likely to have obese and overweight children.
According to a 2013 report published in the journal General Dentistry, the mouth of one habitual diet soda consumer was just as eroded as the mouths of methamphetamine users. The highly acidic nature of diet soda can erode the teeth and wear away at tooth enamel.
According to a 2017 study from Boston University, diet soda drinkers are up to three times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s or dementia than people who don’t drink it. If you want to help prevent mental decline, here are some brain-boosting foods you should be eating and drinking instead.
In the same study from Boston University, research also suggested that people who drank at least one diet soda per day were three times as likely to develop stroke.
A 2019 study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that consumers who favored artificially sweetened drinks like diet soda were 26% more likely to die prematurely compared to others who seldom drank sugar-free beverages.
Cans of diet soda contain phosphoric acid, an FDA-approved colorless liquid that is used in most sodas to prevent the growth of mold. The chemical is fine to drink in moderation, but if you’re guzzling can after can, it can have big implications. Phosphoric acid can disrupt the nutrient absorption process in your body. In excess, this can prevent skin and muscles from getting the nutrients they need. This can speed up the aging process, giving you more wrinkles and a weaker frame. Swap out the diet soda for avocados, berries and other foods for healthy, glowing skin.
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