The People's Perspective on Medicine

Could Soft Drinks Be Killing You?

A large European study found that people who usually had two soft drinks a day were more likely to die prematurely than those who had less than one a month.

People who consume a lot of soft drinks may be putting themselves at risk. That’s the conclusion from a large study not in the US but in Europe (JAMA, Sept. 3, 2019).

The EPIC study stands for European Prospective Investigation in Cancer and Nutrition. Nearly half a million people in ten European countries participated for an average of 16 years. All the participants filled out detailed dietary and lifestyle questionnaires at the beginning of the study.

What Happened to Those Imbibing Soft Drinks?

By the end of the research period, the investigators found that those who reported consuming two or more glasses of soda pop daily were about 17 percent more likely to have died than those who drank less than one glass monthly. In particular, soft drink guzzlers were more susceptible to cardiovascular disease and digestive problems. They were also more likely to die of Parkinson’s disease.

Is Diet Pop Better?

In general, artificially-sweetened soft drinks were not safer than sugar sweetened sodas, especially for heart disease. Sugar-sweetened beverages appeared to carry higher risks for gastrointestinal disease.

Such epidemiological research cannot establish cause and effect. The authors were careful to describe this as an association. It is not the first time scientists have established a link between soft drinks and health problems, however. As a result, limiting soda pop consumption is a step that nutrition experts and public health authorities have been advocating for years.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Mullee A et al, " Association between soft drink consumption and mortality in 10 European countries." JAMA, Sept. 3, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.2478
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Wish I could convince my husband & sons of this.

“Soft drinks” covers a lot of territory! Did the study focus on colas (which all have phosphoric acid) or did it include other types? If sodas like ginger ale were implicated, what about the popular sparkling waters, which are simply carbonated water and perhaps added flavor such as lemon or lime?

For many years I drank 1 or 2 diet sodas daily. About 18 months ago I stopped and switched to just water. I did not change anything else about my diet. Since then I have lost 20 pounds. My Doctors investigated this as an unintended weight loss and found no problems.

How do you scientifically compare a person drinking 2 cans of soft drinks daily with another drinking only 1 each month? What else are the 2-can drinkers taking in to their systems or was that not important in this study?

All sorts of correlations can be made between just about anything and sunspots too. In addition, was any information regarding the soft drink ingredients collected? Is it a function of caffeine, or something else? Other questions of lifestyle come to mind: Were those who died overweight; did they have other genetic diseases or predispositions, or high stress occupations, etc, etc. Was their diet full of fast food, junk food and soft drinks? I find reports of studies like this vexing because they really don’t tell anyone anything of real substance. It’s akin to trying to nail Jello to a wall.

Basically, we know what we’ve known all along, that life causes/ends in death. I don’t think useful conclusions can be drawn isolating 1 ingredient from a life full of exposure to myriads of foods, chemicals, traumas and genetic predispositions, plus thousands of other factors. Tap water or the substances dissolved in it can have adverse effects too. None of it happens in isolation from the other biologic functions in the body. So, I’m left with a conclusion that’s maddeningly vague. Essentially it’s water good, soft drinks BAD. But only sort of.

What about unsweetened carbonated water?

Is it the sugar and chemicals in sodas that’s harmful, or is it the carbonation? I drink unsweetened seltzer all the time or mix it with fruit juice. Am I still at risk?

In my opinion, no soft drinks are healthy, even fake low sugar or no sugar. Many other drinks are full of hidden sugars and other nasty additives. None are good for your gut and sugar, not fats, are one of the leading causes of heart disease.

If both sugar-sweetened and artificially-sweetened sodas shorten your life, might the cause be the carbonation in the beverages? Has anyone looked into the impact of drinking unsweetened carbonated flavored water? Or might those who live longer be drinking something that has health benefits (ie. green tea)? A lot is missing in this study.

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