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Do Soft Drinks Cause Metabolic Syndrome?

Even diet drinks implicated

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Updated July 25, 2007

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

By DrRich

In the July 23, 2007 online issue of the journal Circulation, investigators tied the consumption of more than one soft drink per day to the risk of developing metabolic syndrome. The association was found to be true for diet soft drinks (i.e. zero calorie) as well as those packed with sugar.

Media reports on this study have been filled with breathless speculations as to how even diet soft drinks can produce metabolic syndrome. And while the investigators in this study suggest that the culprit might not be the soft drinks themselves, but instead the eating habits that soft drink consumption reflect, they have fueled the speculation by suggesting that some unknown ingredient in diet sodas might be contributing to metabolic syndrome as well.

DrRich Comments:

Folks, metabolic syndrome is caused -- in susceptible individuals -- by becoming significantly overweight and not exercising. It is not caused by drinking diet soda.

Obesity is associated with certain behaviors. Among these are particular food consumption habits, which often include the consumption of soft drinks (many times, of the diet variety). I don't have any data from clinical trials to prove this. But I have personally observed, on several occasions, large people rounding out a super-sized fast food meal with an extra large diet soda. The diet soda neither contributes to (as the Circulation study might have us believe), nor mitigates (as the individual might like to believe) the obesity-and-metabolic-syndrome-inducing power of the rest of the unhealthy fare this person has chosen to consume. Substituting, say, diet tea for the diet soda in this case will not lessen the risk of metabolic syndrome.

Indeed, I suspect that a study looking for an association between the use of plastic straws and metabolic syndrome would have shown the same thing.

My final thought: Don't let yourself become obese, and get plenty of exercise. Then you can drink diet soda and only have to worry about caffeine addiction.

Sources:

Dhingra R, Sullivan L, Jacques PF, et al. Soft drink consumption and risk of developing cardiometabolic risk factors and the metabolic syndrome in middle-aged adults in the community. Circulation 2007; DOI: 10.1161/circulationaha.107.689935.

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