This is sobering medical news.
We already know sugar is bad for our bodies. See, for example, “Sugar consumption increases risks of breast cancer“.
Now, we have data that soda drinks are also bad for our health.
Two recent studies — from the leading medical journal BMJ and the American Heart Association journal, Circulation — linked drinking soda to cancer and deaths from heart disease. See, for example, “2 cans of sugar or diet soda a day increase heart risk by 23%“.
We are told that soda beverages containing sugar is bad for us, which prompted some U.S. cities to impose a special tax on soft drinks as a way to discourage people from drinking pop. But a new European study found that even sugar-free soft drinks are bad for our health.
As reported by Serena Gordon for MedicineNet, the latest study of more than 451,000 people from 10 European countries, with an average age of 51, found that people who have more than two sodas a day — with or without sugar — had a higher risk of dying than people who consumed soda pops less than once a month.
Even when intervening factors as smoking and body mass index (an estimate of body fat based on height and weight) were accounted for, the study still found an association between drinking more soda and a higher risk of dying.
Led by Neil Murphy, Ph.D., an epidemiologist with the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, the researchers followed the participants’ health for an average of 16 years. The study was published on September 3, 2019, in JAMA Internal Medicine, the peer-reviewed medical journal published by the American Medical Association.
Dr. Murphy said: “We found that higher soft drink intake was associated with a greater risk of death from any cause regardless of whether sugar-sweetened or artificially sweetened drinks were consumed. Our results for sugar-sweetened soft drinks provide further support to limit consumption and to replace them with healthier beverages, preferably water.”
In addition to a higher risk of dying from all causes, drinking more than 1-2 sodas a day — with or without sugar — is also linked to some specific causes of death, including colon cancer, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, and digestive diseases.
Recognizing that a correlation between soda and a higher risk of early death does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship, the scientists offer some explanations for the association:
- Soda drinkers may have other habits that could shorten their lifespans, such as smoking or an unhealthy diet.
- Sugar-sweetened beverages may lead to weight gain and obesity which, in turn, may affect the way the hormone insulin is used in the body, which can lead to inflammation.
Murphy acknowleges that more research is needed to understand how artificially sweetened soda might increase the risk of early death.
Predictably, representatives of the beverage and sweetener industries urged people not to overreact to the findings:
- William Dermody Jr., a spokesman for the American Beverage Association, said: “Soft drinks are safe to consume as part of a balanced diet and the authors of this study acknowledge their research does not indicate otherwise.”
- Robert Rankin, president of the Calorie Control Council (CCC), said low-calorie and no-calorie sweeteners are “an important tool for weight management and those managing diabetes.”
- CCC medical adviser Dr. Keri Peterson said: “The safety of low- and no-calorie sweeteners has been reaffirmed time and time again by leading regulatory and governmental agencies around the world.”
But other scientists affirm the European study’s findings:
- Dr. Maria Anton, an endocrinologist at Northwell Health’s Long Island Jewish Forest Hills Hospital, said excess consumption of soft drinks and other high-sugar and artificially sweetened beverages “can contribute to weight gain and poor blood sugar control, worsening existing conditions like diabetes.
- Registered dietitian Samantha Heller, from NYU Langone Health in New York City, said many factors may contribute to the link between soda consumption and risk of death. The bottom line, she said, is that people don’t need to drink soda: “The consumption of beverages that taste sweet is fueled by marketing and advertising. There really is no need to consume them.” Heller suggests drinking seltzer, tea, or just plain water instead.
See also “Water or Coke, you choose!“