You may think that diet soda is your free pass to drink all the soda you want without any negative health effects, but that’s far from the truth.
Most people turn to diet soda to avoid weight gain from their sugar-loaded counterparts, when in fact it makes your body crave even more sugar.
In addition, the drinks are seriously addictive and can be hard to kick once you’ve gotten into a routine of drinking them every day.
The reality is, is that the health dangers of diet soda make drinking them not worth the inevitable health problems that may progress down the road.
The culprit of it all? Synthetic sweeteners.
Synthetic Sweeteners in Diet Soda
I used to be addicted to diet soda 6 years ago – I could sometimes drink up to 5 full glasses of the stuff. Unbeknownst to me, I was wreaking havoc on my body and would end up with headaches, fatigue, and brain fog.
I drank diet soda so that I could reduce my dependency on regular soda. But little did I know that the synthetic sweeteners in diet soda were doing twice as much harm on my body as regular soda.
While regular soda is still a terrible option, diet soda is a really terrible option.
Instead of sugar, artificial sweeteners like aspartame, cyclamates, saccharin, acesulfame-k, and/or sucralose are used to sweeten diet soda drinks.
These synthetic sweeteners wreak havoc on all parts of the body.
The thing is, is that the way the human body and brain respond to these sweeteners is very complex.
One concern is that people who use artificial sweeteners may replace the lost calories with other foods that are sugar dense. After all, the brain requires glucose to thrive. If it isn’t given the energy source it needs, it is going to unleash those cravings in other ways.
People might also assume that because they’re drinking diet soda, then they can afford to eat the cake or cookies they so desperately want.
It is also known that synthetic sweeteners change the way we taste food. People who use artificial sweeteners may start to find natural sugar sources like fruit, less appealing, and vegetables even more so. So there is a seriously unhealthy trade-off here, where you start craving more artificially flavored foods with lower nutritional value over foods that will actually nourish you.
These synthetic sweeteners are also highly addictive – so giving them up can be difficult.
8 Dangers of Diet Soda
If you’re concerned about the health dangers of diet soda, the following eight reasons should be more than enough proof to kick the habit.
Aspartame is a highly addictive carcinogenic neurotoxin. It breaks down as phenylalanine (50%), aspartic acid (40%), and methanol (10%). Methanol is also known as wood alcohol which is converted to formaldehyde when heated.
Introducing formaldehyde into the body, a known carcinogen, and neurotoxinis problematic if consumed regularly.
A major issue with aspartame is that it acts as an “excitotoxin”, exciting neurons until they die. According to one study, one of the metabolites of aspartame, aspartic acid, causes hyperexcitability of neurons and is a precursor to other excitatory amino acids like glutamate. This combination induces excitotoxicity and leads to the degeneration of astrocytes (glial cells that provide physical and metabolic support for neurons) and neurons.
Drinking aspartame long-term has also been found to interfere with the brain’s antioxidant defense system in animal studies. Researchers found that aspartame creates an imbalance in the antioxidant/pro-oxidant status in the brain, mainly through a mechanism involving the glutathione-dependent system.
Not only that but because of the inhibition of brain serotonin and dopamine, aspartame in diet drinks can put a serious damper on your mood.
One study found that when consuming high-aspartame diets, participants had more irritable moods, exhibited more depression and performed worse on spatial orientation tests.
2. Headaches and Migraines
The chemical soup that lays in every can of diet soda is a major reason most individuals get a headache after consuming it. A major ingredient in diet sodas, sucralose, has been found to cause migraines and GI tract issues, based on a variety of case reports, .
Aspartame also causes inhibition of brain serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that may play a role in reducing migraine and headache pain (9).
Diet soda is incredibly acidic. It ranks around 3 on pH charts, which is highly corrosive. According to studies by the Journal of the American Dental Association, diet soda is just about the most acidic beverage you can drink, besides undiluted vinegar.
The threshold pH for enamel dissolution is 5.5, so diet soda quite literally eats away your teeth. Sugar-free drinks usually have higher levels of phosphoric acid, citric acid and/or tartaric acid, which eats away at the enamel on your teeth, making them more susceptible to cavities and dental erosion.
Soda demineralizes your body, too.
When you drink soda of any type (diet or regular), the body tries to buffer the acidity by pulling alkaline minerals stored in your bones like calcium phosphate. As these alkaline minerals are pulled to counteract the acids found in sodas, your bones become weaker and more likely to decay. They start to become more brittle and easier to fracture, and may even result in osteoporosis.
With such an acidic pH, diet soda will also make your skin look dull and may make you look older than you actually are. One study even claimed that drinking diet soda can age you as rapidly as smoking cigarettes (13).
Calorie-free sweetness actually tricks the brain and makes it crave more sugar.
Some studies have found that when participants drink diet soda, there are significant increases in glucagon-like peptide 1. Glucagon-like peptide 1 is a hormone in the gut that promotes energy storage and insulin action while decreasing appetite. Results suggest that diet soda does increase insulin via gut action, but only when glucose is also present (which it normally is – especially during mealtime).
In addition, some studies have shown that drinking diet soda can prevent you from losing weight. When testing the link between obesity and diet soda, researchers at the University of Texas Health Centre found that obesity risk increased (57.1%) when people drank more than two cans of diet soda per day compared to 47.2% for people drinking the same amount of regular soda. This doesn’t mean you should drink regular soda (47.2% obesity risk is still ridiculously high). It just goes to show that diet soda does not help prevent you from gaining weight.
5. Kidney Damage
There are many ingredients in diet soda that increase your toxicity load. Ingesting chemicals not meant for the human body increases the number of free radicals circulating in the blood, which then have to be filtered by the kidneys.
A study out of Harvard found that long-term diet soda drinking causes a 30 percent greater reduction in kidney function. The study looked at women who regularly consumed diet soda over 20 years and found that consuming just 2 diet drinks per day was associated with a 2-fold increased odds for kidney function decline.
6. Heart Disease
Turns out that diet drinks are a major problem for the cardiovascular system, too.
A study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine revealed a link between diet soda consumption and heart disease. The study was conducted for over 10 years and included up to 2600 adults. The researchers found that diet and regular soft drink consumption was associated with many risk factors for developing heart disease. Even after controlling for these risks, diet soda consumption was still independently associated with an increased risk for stroke, heart attack, and death.
This isn’t the only study that has made a correlation between the two.
A more recent study found that drinking two or more of any kind of artificially sweetened drinks a day is associated with an increased risk of clot-based strokes, heart attacks and early death in women over 50 (17).
7. Metabolic Syndrome
An alarming amount of studies have been showing the correlation between diet soda and chronic disease.
Metabolic syndrome, for example, has been found to have known links to diet soda consumption.
One study found that “at least daily consumption of diet soda was associated with a 36% greater relative risk of incident metabolic syndrome and a 67% greater relative risk of incident type 2 diabetes compared with non-consumption”.
More recent studies are now finding, however, that this risk might only increase if you consume artificially-sweetened sodas with meals that are carbohydrate-heavy (19).
8. Compromises Lung Health
Drinking any type of soda, including diet soda, increases your risk of developing asthma and COPD symptoms. This association is dose-dependent, so the more you drink, the higher your risk of developing these conditions.
A large study with nearly 17,000 participants found that high levels of soft drink consumption were positively associated with asthma and COPD. Overall, 13.3 percent of surveyed participants with asthma and 15.6 percent of those with COPD drank more than half a liter of soft drinks per day.
The Bottom Line
Diet soda is loaded with toxic synthetic sweeteners that impact all parts of the body. While most people reach for diet soda as a healthier option to its sugary counterpart, they may be doing more harm than intended.
Diet soda negatively impacts your lungs, brain, kidneys, and teeth and can be a major downer on your mood. It has even been associated with more chronic health conditions like metabolic syndrome and heart disease.
Steering clear of diet soda and replacing it with healthier options like freshly pressed fruit juice, or kombucha, is a great way to spare your body from the damaging effects of this highly acidic drink.