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Purdue Study Questions Health Value of Diet Drinks

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Purdue researchers say artificially-sweetened diet drink may not be helping you lose weight after all, and may be contributing to health issues – like weight gain. Professor Susan Swithers says findings from a variety of studies show routine consumption of diet sodas, even one per day, can also be connected to higher likelihood of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and high blood pressure. She says public health officials concerned about sugar-sweetened drinks may need to think about advocating limiting the intake of artificial no-cal or low-cal sweeteners as well.   Her findings were published by Cell Press on Wednesday (July 10) in an opinion article in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism.
(Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
More information from Purdue:
The concerns for these chemical sweeteners emerged across studies that varied widely in design, methodology and population demographics, and they applied to sweeteners, such as aspartame, sucralose and saccharin. About 30 percent of adults and 15 percent of children in the United States consume artificial sweeteners.
"The concern that these non-caloric sweeteners might not be healthy is a message that many people do not want to hear, especially as the prevalence of artificial sweeteners increases in other products," Swithers said. "There is a lot of pressure from the public health sector to find solutions to counter the rise of obesity and chronic disease, and there is a lot of money and business at stake for the food industry as it develops and promotes these products. Beverages are becoming political issues as government leaders and politicians seek regulation and taxing to limit their availability and consumption, but most of these measures exclude diet soft drinks because they are perceived as healthy. When it comes to making policy decisions, it's more important than ever that the science is considered and that the public understands what the science says in order to help them make the best health decisions."
Swithers, who also is a member of Purdue's Ingestive Behavior Research Center, looked at a variety of studies, including the San Antonio Heart Study that reported an increase in body weight gain for adults and adolescents who consumed artificially sweetened beverages over beverages regularly sweetened. Data from a number of studies, including the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study also reported greater risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and metabolic syndrome, which is related to diabetes and cardiovascular problems, for consumers of artificially sweetened beverages. Some data indicated that those who consumed artificially sweetened beverages had double the risk of metabolic syndrome compared to non-consumers.
Research also shows that non-caloric or reduced-calorie food and beverages interfere with a body's learned responses. The assumption is that fewer calories means less weight gain. Research, including studies from Swithers and colleagues, shows that frequent consumption of high-intensity sweeteners may have the opposite effect by confusing the body's natural ability to manage calories based on tasting something sweet. Swithers' research is funded by the National Institutes of Health, and she is continuing to study these effects.
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