About one in three Americans drink a can of sweetened soda every day, which is – as you already know – a bad habit leading to weight gain and diabetes. Many people have switched to diet soda, hoping to avoid these outcomes but still enjoy the taste of a sweet, cold, fizzy can of Coke, Pepsi. Mountain Dew, or Dr. Pepper. You may be immune to pressure to buy these drinks, but they are ubiquitous and their marketing is pushed at teens and young adults.
Research suggests that excess sugar, especially the fructose in sugary drinks, may damage the brain. Data from the Framingham Heart Study found that frequent users of sugary beverages are more likely to have poorer memory, smaller overall brain volume, and a smaller hippocampus – an area of the brain important for leaning and memory.
A follow-up study found that people who drank a diet soda daily were almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia when compared to those who did not. The researchers took age, smoking, diet quality and other factors into account, but acknowledged that they could not completely control for preexisting conditions like diabetes, which is a known risk factor for dementia. They concluded tat it was somewhat surprising that diet soda consumption led to these outcomes. While previous studies have linked diet soda intake with stroke risk, the link with dementia was not previously known. The studies did not differentiate between types of artificial sweeteners. Scientists have put forth various hypotheses about how artificial sweeteners may cause harm, from transforming gut bacteria to altering the brain’s perception of ‘sweet’, but they conclude that more work is needed to figure out the underlying mechanisms.
Sudha Seshadri, professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, and senior author on the papers, wrote “these studies are not the be-all and end-all, but it looks like there is not very much of an upside to having sugary drinks, and substituting the sugar with artificial sweeteners doesn’t seem to help. Maybe good old fashioned water is something we need to get used to.
The following is Greenwood writing: You could also try unsweetened iced coffee or tea, or plain sparkling water with a slice of lemon or orange. Plain carbonated water does not adversely affect your bones or teeth, and may improve swallowing problems in some people.
Sadja Greenwood, MD back issues at sadjascolumns.blogspot.com