artificially sweetened soft drinks increase risk of diabetes

Since drinking sugary drinks can lead to diabetes, you’d think the claims that artificially sweetened sugar free drinks don’t contribute to diabetes could be believed. But can they?

Quite some time ago, early research was already suggesting that the promise of artificially sweetened sugar free soft drinks shouldn’t be believed. Despite the absence of guilty sugar, the artificially sweetened soft drinks were leading to glucose intolerance in healthy people (Nature 2014;514:181-6).

Now, there’s little remaining doubt. A huge meta-analysis of 17 studies, including 38,253 people, suggests that artificially sweetened soft drinks still contribute to type 2 diabetes.

The massive meta-analysis found that drinking just one serving a day of a sugar sweetened drink is associated with an 18% increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes. But drinking just one artificially sweetened beverage a day is linked with a whopping 25% increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Some past studies have suffered from the weakness that they leave open the question of whether people who drink artificially sweetened drinks are at higher risk of conditions like diabetes because drinkers of artificially sweetened diet drinks are more likely to be overweight--hence the diet drink--and it is really the weight problem that is increasing the risk of disease.

 But the current meta-analysis controlled for that question. When the researchers took weight into account, the risk of type 2 diabetes increased by 13% in the sugar sweetened drink population. And--here's the important part--drinking one artificially sweetened drink a day still increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 8% in the artificially sweetened population. That suggests that, independent of weight, artificially sweetened drinks actually significantly increase the risk of diabetes.

The meta-analysis found that, although fruit juice was also associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, unlike sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened drinks, the increase was not statistically significantly.

Lately, several studies have found that the common sense replacement of sugar sweetened beverages with artificially sweetened beverages actually makes little sense at all. It's not that they've discovered that sugar sweetened drinks are good for you: they're not. But artificially sweetened ones are little, if any, better. Several studies have linked artificially sweetened drinks to glucose intolerance, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and even weight loss.

BMJ 2015;351:h3576

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