Just TWO glasses of diet drinks each day raises the risk of an early death, reveals study by the World Health Organisation
- Researchers quizzed more than 450,000 Europeans about their diet
- Those that died within the 16-year follow up typically drank more soft drinks
- Diet drinks were just as prevalent as completely sugar sweetened drinks
- The authors could not conclude causation and said more research is needed
Just two glasses of diet drink a day increases the risk of an early death, a World Health Organisation study has shown.
The global study of more than 450,000 adults in 10 countries – including the UK – found that daily consumption of all types of soft drinks was linked with a higher chance of dying young.
But the rates for those drinking artificially-sweetened beverages were significantly higher than those consuming full sugar versions.
The scientists, from the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, said it would be ‘prudent’ to cut out all soft drinks and have water instead.
And they said taxing sugary drinks – as is done in the UK – could boost diet drink uptake for which the ‘long-term’ health implications’ are unknown.
Just two glasses of diet drink a day increases the risk of an early death, a World Health Organisation study has shown
Experts speaking at the European Society of Cardiology in Paris said people should ‘eliminate’ soft drinks from their diet.
The research, published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal, is the largest study to examine links between soft drink consumption and mortality.
Previous smaller studies have suggested a link, but have not found such dramatic differences.
The new research found those who consumed two or more 250ml glasses of diet drink a day had a 26 per increased risk of dying within the next 16 years.
And deaths from cardiovascular disease went up 52 per cent.
For those who had two or more sugary soft drinks a day, the risk of death in the same period was raised by eight per cent.
Study leader Dr Neil Murphy, said: ‘The striking observation in our study was that we found positive associations for both sugar-sweetened and artificially-sweetened soft drinks with risk of all-cause deaths.’
He said it is ‘unclear’ exactly why this is, but pointed to previous studies which suggest the artificial sweeteners in diet drinks ‘may induce glucose intolerance’ and trigger high blood insulin levels.
‘Additional studies are now needed to examine the long term health consequences of specific artificial sweeteners that are commonly used in soft drinks, such as aspartame and acesulfame potassium,’ he said.
Similar studies in the past have been criticised because experts said people who drink diet products are more likely to be unhealthy to start with.
But the new study found the link between diet drinks and death rates persisted among those of a healthy weight.
The study also raised concerns about policies that drive people from sugary drinks to diet drinks.
The authors wrote: ‘Reformulation of sugar-sweetened soft drinks, in which sugar is replaced with low- or no-calorie sweeteners, is being driven by consumer awareness and fiscal instruments, such as taxes.
‘Artificially sweetened soft drinks have few or no calories; however, their long-term physiological and health implications are largely unknown.’
Stroke specialist Professor Mitchell Elkind, president elect of the American Heart Association, speaking in Paris, said: ‘This study is important. It’s a very big study and includes many countries.
‘The take home message is drink water – certainly avoid sugar sweetened beverages and be cautious about artificially sweetened beverages.
‘Water is the safest thing. Tea and coffee are OK. But minimise or completely eliminate processed beverages.
‘It’s difficult to change behaviour but studies like this help.’
Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘We’re all too familiar with the fact that sugary drinks are not only bad for our teeth, but the excess calories can also make us put on weight, increasing our risk of a heart attack or stroke.
‘Where you can, stick with water and unsweetened tea or coffee, and keep soft drinks as a treat.’
Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, said: ‘This study reports a possible association between higher consumption of soft drinks and an increased risk of mortality, but does not provide evidence of cause, as the authors readily admit.
‘Soft drinks are safe to consume as part of a balanced diet.
‘According to all leading health authorities in the world, as well as Cancer Research UK and Diabetes UK, low- and no-calorie sweeteners are safe.’
WHAT ARE THE DANGERS LINKED TO SWEETENED DRINKS?
SUGAR SWEETENED DRINKS
Drinking large amounts of sugar in drinks such as pop, soda and juices can lead to serious health problems, including weight gain, tooth decay and diabetes.
Some drinks contain upwards of 40 grams of sugar—equivalent to about 10 teaspoons of sugar—and 200 or more calories in a 12-ounce serving.
The NHS says more than 20 per cent of the added sugar in adult diets comes from soft drinks and fruit juice — and as much as a third for children aged between 11 and 18.
Researchers at Oxford University calculated the impact the Government’s sugar tax levy, introduced in April 2018, would have on obesity in the UK.
They found obesity would drop by 9.8 per cent in children aged four to ten.
In March, Harvard School of Public Health concluded that as well as weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, the more sugary drinks a person consumed the more their risk of early death from any cause increased. The link with heart disease was particularly strong.
The study, in the journal Circulation, looked at 117,000 Americans over three decades. Those who drank two or more cans of sugary drinks a day had a 31 per cent higher risk of early death from cardiovascular disease — and each further drink was linked with an astonishing 10 per cent increased risk.
Researchers at the Meyer Cancer Centre at Weill Cornell medical school, US, have announced they are starting to assess whether sugar ‘feeds cancer’.
Sweetened soft drinks – such as cordial or fizzy pop – increases cancer risk by 19 per cent, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Paris 13 University, Avicenne Hospital and The French Public Health Agency in July.
The researchers could not be clear if sugary drinks are directly causing the increase in risk. The sugary drinks may lead to obesity which is a well-known risk factor for various types of cancer.
ARTIFICIALLY SWEETENED DRINKS
Experts have long debated whether sweeteners, which include aspartame, saccharin and sucralose, are safe.
Studies have linked consumption of them through foods and diet drinks to diabetes, weight gain and cancer.
But industry bodies have hit back in light of the fact regulatory bodies have consistently confirmed their safety.
In February, research by the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association found two cans of sugar-free fizzy drinks per day could increase a woman’s risk of a heart attack or stroke by almost a third.
The major study of over 80,000 women found those who regularly drank fizz were 31 per cent more likely to have a stroke caused by a blood clot, 29 per cent more likely to develop heart disease and 16 per cent more likely to die, when compared to women who rarely drank them.
Another study in February, published in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research International, looked the effects of artificial sweeteners on mouse embryos.
In pregnant mice given sweeteners, malformations of mammary glands were seen in foetuses at 18 weeks, while four-week-old mice given sweeteners suffered ‘a decrease in the length of the body, limbs, and tail’.
Another study, published in the journal Metabolic Brain Disease in May, raised concerns about the impact of sweeteners on brain development.
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