Those sweet sparkling drinks we’ve come to enjoy have been under the spotlight lately and what emerges suggests we might want to evaluate our relationship with them. Dr. Honglei Chen, a member of the American Academy of Neurology, has reported a 30 per cent increased risk of depression in people who drink sweet carbonated beverages, with diet versions being the most problematic.
The research team followed the drink consumption patterns of 265,000 men and women aged 50 to 71. Ten years into the study it was found that those who drank the equivalent of four or more cans of soft drink were 30 per cent more likely to experience depression than those who drank none, and the risk was much higher in those who preferred diet drinks. Interestingly, coffee consumption appeared to have the opposite effect. A four cups of coffee a day drinker was associated with a 10 per cent reduction in depression risk.
Dr. Honglei Chen concedes that the findings do not prove soft drinks cause depression, but “they are consistent with a small but growing body of evidence suggesting that artificially sweetened beverages may be associated with poor health.” Although the researchers suspect the link may be due to the artificial sweetener aspartame, they are as yet unable to identify the precise biological mechanism that might link aspartame to depression.
Our consumption of fizzy drinks is increasing. According to Dr. Hans-Peter Kubis, a biological scientist at Bangor University, just a can or two a week can alter our metabolism so that we pile on weight. His findings, published in the European Journal Of Nutrition, suggest that exposure to liquid sugar causes genes in our muscles to change their behavior. This increases the risk of type 2 diabetes as our metabolism becomes less efficient and less able to cope with rises in blood sugar.
Sugary beverages come in a number of guises. Some are promoted to aid recovery during illness, others are linked to sports and performance, yet others such as fruit or elderflower drinks are promoted as health drinks. Yet the packaging can be deceptive. Some ‘health’ drinks contain more sugar than a can of soda and when you consider a regular can of cola contains around eight teaspoons of sugar, that’s quite an intake. Moreover, over consumption of sugar has been linked to memory problems, learning and behavioral disorders and depression.
In another study the results of 42,000 men followed for 22 years and
published in the American Heart Association’s journal, found that those with a liking for soft drinks have higher levels of inflammation in their blood vessels and lower levels of good HDL cholesterol. Just two carbonated drinks a week seems to double the risk of pancreatic cancer and increase the risk of developing fatty liver disease by five times.
In some European countries moves are underway to tax sugary drinks. France and Denmark have already increased taxes. In the U.S., various medical and consumer groups have been pressing the Surgeon-General for an investigation into the health effects of soda and other sugary drinks.
The soft-drinks industry, perhaps quite rightly, points out that depression is a complex issue and much more research is needed. Certainly some of the biggest predictors of depression are a family history and stressful life events. It therefore comes down to personal choice as to whether we heed the warnings or regard them as yet more scaremongering. As for me, well for a variety of health reasons I can't help but feel fizzy drinks should now be off the menu.
Dr. Honglei Chen’s study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting in San Diego in March.