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Despite all the warnings about the risks of chemicals in diet sodas, many people still rely on their daily Coke Zero. They take the risk because their greater concern is weight control. Parents are even feeding diet sodas to their children in the belief that it will avert obesity.
The sad irony is that artificial sweeteners in diet sodas may be having the exact opposite effect. Two studies presented at a meeting of the American Diabetes Association suggest that drinking diet sodas might be a self-defeating behavior for dieters. They may be adding inches to their waistlines.
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.
The authors said data from their study and other prospective studies suggest that the promotion of diet sodas and artificial sweeteners as healthy alternatives may be ill-advised. They noted that diet sodas may be free of calories but not of health consequences.
The researchers assessed data from 474 participants in the San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging, or SALSA, over about 10 years. They 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. The authors believe their results suggest that public health policies promoting diet soft drinks in place of sugar-sweetened drinks may have unintended but deleterious effects.
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.
According to the researchers, heavy aspartame exposure might potentially directly contribute to increased blood glucose levels, and thus contribute to the association between diet soda consumption and the risk of diabetes in humans.
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. Aspartame use has also been associated with cancer and brain damage.
For more information on aspartame's adverse health effects visit GreenMedInfo's topic page: Aspartame Effects Research
Despite these concerns, the American Diabetes Association continues to recommend the use of diet drinks on its website.