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Diet Soda Not Linked to Raised Diabetes Risk

Apr 20, 2011

Harvard University researchers suggest in a new study that diet sodas and other drinks with sugar-substitutes, once blamed for increasing the odds of developing diabetes, are not guilty.

Researchers followed a group of men for 20 years and found that those who drank sugary beverages were more likely to get diabetes, but the same was not true for those who drank diet soft drinks and other artificially-sweetened beverages.  

The authors said replacing sugary drinks with diet replacements seems to be a safe and healthy life choice.

Dr. Frank Hu, a co-author of the study stated that, “There are multiple alternatives to regular soda.” “Diet soda is perhaps not the best alternative, but moderate consumption is not going to have appreciable harmful effects.”

Studies in the past have suggested that people who drink diet beverages on a regular basis might be more likely to get diabetes than those who refrained from artificially-sweetened drinks altogether.

Hu and his colleagues analyzed data from more than 40,000 men followed from 1986 to 2006. During the course of the study, participants regularly filled out questionnaires on their medical status and dietary habits, including their intake of regular and diet beverages on a weekly basis.

About 7 percent of the men reported that they were diagnosed with diabetes at some point during the 20-year study. The researchers discovered that men who drank the most sugary drinks — about one serving per day on average — were 16 percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than men who never drank sweetened beverages. The link, however, was mainly due to carbonated beverages. Drinking other non-carbonated sweetened fruit drinks such as lemonade was not linked to a higher risk of diabetes.

The study found that when they did not take any other factors into consideration, men who drank a lot of diet soda and other diet drinks were more likely to get diabetes. But once the researchers added in factors such as weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol, those drinks were not related to risk of diabetes.

The researchers believe that, in older studies, a link was made between diet drinks and risk of diabetes because it was most likely that a large part of participants in those studies were overweight, had high blood pressure and/or cholesterol already.

Dr. Rebecca Brown, an endocrinologist at the National Institutes of Health mentioned that, the new study finding confirms the idea “that it’s really these differences between people who choose to, versus don’t choose to, drink artificially-sweetened beverages,” that is related to diabetes.

“People who are at risk for diabetes or obesity … those may be the people who are more likely to choose artificial sweeteners because they may be more likely to be dieting,” said Brown, who has studied artificial sweeteners but was not involved in the current research.

The study also found that drinking regular or decaffeinated coffee on a regular basis was linked to a lower risk of diabetes. Researchers are unclear why that is, but believe it could be due to antioxidants, vitamins or minerals found in coffee, said Hu.

Although, there still exists some health concern about artificial sweeteners, none have been proven, said Brown. “I certainly think that we have better evidence that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages increases health risks.”

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, April 2011