Sunday, March 30, 2008

Diet Soft Drinks: Scary Warning!

ou drink diet sodas so you won't get fat. It's the healthy thing to do, right? Uh oh. Now comes word from the Boston University School of Medicine that diet drinks can boost your risk for heart disease just like full-calorie, sugary sodas.

The Associated Press and Reuters report that people who drink more than one diet soda daily have the same risk for heart disease as those who consume sugary sodas, according to a large study led by Dr. Vasan Ramachandran.

But before you throw out all your diet drinks: Note there is no cause-and-effect relationship; diet drinks do not cause heart disease. Instead, it's a surprising link for which more research is needed.

Using data from a subgroup of the massive, multi-generational heart study that followed residents of Framingham, Mass., the researchers found that people who drank more than one diet or regular soda a day had a 44 percent higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome four years later than those who consumed less than one soda a day.

Metabolic syndrome, which increases the risk for heart disease, has several symptoms: excessively large waistlines, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, low levels of "good" cholesterol, and high levels of triglycerides. "When you have metabolic syndrome, your risk of developing heart disease or stroke doubles. You also have a risk of developing diabetes," Ramachandran told Reuters. Researchers, who expected those who drank regular soda to have a greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome than those who stuck with the diet drinks, were quite surprised by the study results.

Specifically, those who drank one or more soft drinks--regular or diet--daily had a:

  • 31 percent greater risk of becoming obese.
  • 30 percent increased risk of developing a larger waist circumference.
  • 25 percent higher risk of developing high blood triglycerides.
  • 25 percent greater risk of developing high blood sugar.
  • 32 percent increased risk of having low high-density lipoprotein or "good" cholesterol levels.
  • And all of this adds up to a 44 percent higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
Ramachandran was surprised there wasn't a difference in risk between the regular and diet soda drinkers. He surmises that while drinking no-calorie diet sodas won't make you fat, it could increase your craving for more sweets.

Barry Popkin, of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, doesn't put much credence into the findings, although he says the results aren't all that unexpected. He says diet sodas are largely consumed by people who have unhealthy lifestyles, even if they are thin, and it's those unhealthy habits that lead to the increased risk of heart disease--not the diet soda.

The study findings were published in the journal Circulation. The American Heart Association, which publishes Circulation, clarified that diet sodas do not cause heart disease and cautioned that it's better to have a diet drink than a full-calorie soda.

--From the Editors at Netscape