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Study Links Diet Soft Drinks With Diabetes Risk
By HealthDay News

Having just one soda a day, even if it's diet, is tied to higher incidence of metabolic syndrome, related to the development of diabetes

Drinking more than one soda a day -- even if it's the sugar-free diet kind -- is associated with an increased incidence of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors linked to the development of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, a study finds.

The link to diet soda found in the study was "striking" but not entirely a surprise, says Ramachandran Vasan, M.D., senior study author and professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine.

He said earlier studies hinted at the connection, "But this is the first study to show the association in a large population."

That population consisted of more than 6,000 participants in the Framingham Heart Study, which has been following residents of a Massachusetts town since 1948.

When the soda portion of the study began, all participants were free of metabolic syndrome, a collection of risk factors including high blood pressure, elevated levels of the blood fats called triglycerides, low levels of the artery-protecting HDL cholesterol, high fasting blood sugar levels and excessive waist circumference.

Metabolic syndrome is defined as the presence of three or more of these risk factors.

Experts' Theories
Over the four years of the study, people who consumed more than one soft drink of any kind a day were 44 percent more likely to develop metabolic syndrome than those who didn't drink a soda a day.

The findings are published in the July 24 issue of the journal Circulation.

A variety of explanations, none proven, have been proposed for the link between diet soft-drink consumption and metabolic syndrome, Vasan said.

That association was evident even when the researchers accounted for other factors, such as levels of saturated fat and fiber in the diet, total calorie intake, smoking and physical activity.

One theory is that the high sweetness of all soft drinks makes a person more prone to eat sugary, fattening foods. Another is that the caramel content of soft drinks promotes metabolic changes that lead to insulin resistance.

Vasan's theory is that people who like to drink sweet soda also like to eat the kind of foods that cardiac nutritionists warn against. "This is a marker of dietary behavior ? But we cannot infer causality," Vasan says, meaning there is no proof that soda itself is the villain.

Carefully controlled animal studies might resolve the cause-and-effect issue, he said.

"Other studies have shown that the extra calories and sugar in soft drinks contribute to weight gain, and therefore heart disease risk," says Elizabeth G. Nabel, M.D., director of the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, which funds the Framingham Heart Study, in a prepared statement.

"This study echoes those findings by extending the link to all soft drinks and the metabolic syndrome."

Other experts echo the same sentiment.

"There is no safe way of eating junk food, just as we learned the lesson from trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils often found in fat-free or low-fat cookies," says Suzanne R. Steinbaum, M.D., director of Women and Heart Disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

"Diet soda does not protect us from the development of what we are trying to avoid by consuming it."
 

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