Diet Soda Linked to Serious Health Conditions

Do you drink diet soda? You might want to think again, because it is linked to two significant health conditions.  If you drink diet soda you could have a much higher risk of vascular events compared to those who don’t drink soda, according to research presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2011.

In findings involving 2,564 people in the large, multi-ethnic Northern Manhattan Study (NOMAS), scientists said people who drank diet soda every day had a 61 percent higher risk of vascular events than those who reported no soda drinking.

“If our results are confirmed with future studies, then it would suggest that diet soda may not be the optimal substitute for sugar-sweetened beverages for protection against vascular outcomes,” said Hannah Gardener, Sc.D., lead author and epidemiologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Miami, Fla.


Also, research  suggests a sweetener commonly used in diet soda may cause weight gain. Aspartame is a common sugar substitute used as a sweetener in many prepared foods and beverages, particularly diet soda. It is a common choice for those trying to lose weight, as it lowers the number of calories in food. However, new research suggests the sweetener may be ineffective for weight loss, and it may even have the opposite effect.
Even more concerning, acceptable daily intakes of aspartame, as regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), might make you hungrier and lead to weight gain.

Other studies in rodents have shown that compared with sugar, sweeteners like saccharin and aspartame causes weight gain instead of weight loss.

Reasons why this may happen are not entirely clear, but a team of researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital decided to investigate why aspartame does not promote weight loss.

Their research – published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism. – suggests one of aspartame’s metabolites may play a role.

The researchers were led by Dr. Richard Hodin, from the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Surgery.

Studying aspartame intake in mice

One of the breakdown products of aspartame is phenylalanine, an inhibitor of a gut enzyme called intestinal alkaline phosphatase (IAP) that has been shown to prevent metabolic syndrome in mice.

Metabolic syndrome is a generic name given to a group symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.

Dr. Hodin and team had conducted previous research where they fed IAP to mice that were on a high-fat diet. They found that IAP can prevent the onset of metabolic syndrome, as well as reduce the symptoms in animals that already had the condition.

Based on this known relationship between IAP, phenylalanine, and aspartame, researchers hypothesized that consuming aspartame may promote metabolic syndrome because of its inhibition of phenylalanine.

For the study, researchers added aspartame to diet and regular soda, before measuring IAP activity in mice.

The scientists used four groups of mice. Two groups were put on a normal diet, with one group receiving drinking water with aspartame and the other just plain water. The other two groups were put on a high-fat diet, with one group getting plain water and the other getting water with aspartame.

The normal-diet group that received aspartame consumed the equivalent of 3 ½ cans of diet soda every day. The group that was on a high-fat diet received aspartame in doses the equivalent to almost two cans of diet soda.

The mice were monitored for 18 weeks.

Aspartame does not help with weight loss

Dr. Hodin and team found that IAP activity was reduced when it was added to a drink containing aspartame, but IAP levels remained the same when IAP was added to a drink containing sugar.

Researchers injected aspartame into the mice’s small intestines, where IAP is normally produced. They found this reduced IAP levels.

Researchers also injected saline solution in bowel segments, but IAP activity remained the same.

At the end of the 18-week period, there was no significant difference between the weights of the two groups that were fed a regular diet.

However, mice on a high-fat diet that received aspartame gained more weight than mice that did not receive aspartame.

Mice that received the sweetener also had higher blood sugar than those without aspartame.

They also had higher levels of the TNF-alpha inflammatory protein in their blood, which is usually associated with metabolic syndrome.

“Sugar substitutes like aspartame are designed to promote weight loss and decrease the incidence of metabolic syndrome, but a number of clinical and epidemiologic studies have suggested that these products don’t work very well and may actually make things worse,” says Dr. Hodin.

Aspartame blocks enzyme that prevents obesity

Inside the human body, aspartame is metabolized and broken down into phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol. Phenylalanine and aspartic acid are amino acids that are naturally present in many protein-containing foods.

However, phenylalanine inhibits the production of IAP.

“We think that aspartame might not work because, even as it is substituting for sugar, it blocks the beneficial aspects of IAP,” Dr. Hodin says.

“People do not really understand why these artificial sweeteners don’t work. There has been some evidence that they actually can make you more hungry and may be associated with increased calorie consumption. Our findings regarding aspartame’s inhibition of IAP may help explain why the use of aspartame is counterproductive.”