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Recent research suggests that it is not only sugary drinks which have health implications, such as weight gain. Diet sodas may not be that healthy either, having been associated with the risk of developing diabetes.

There has been concern for some time that high consumption of sugary drinks such as colas is bad for health on a number of counts.  New York City Mayor Bloomberg is so concerned about sugary drinks that he even tried to ban the largest sizes from being sold. Not only are these drinks bad for the teeth, being acidic as well as having high sugar content, but they are high in calories too.  Hence drinking too many can lead to ‘unconscious’ consumption of a large proportion of daily calories and weight gain over time.

For these reasons many of us consider artificially-sweetened (‘diet’) drinks to be a healthier option.  But more than one study has shown this is probably not the case and they may be equally harmful.

Sodas and type 2 diabetes

A team of researchers in the UK analyzed data from over 27,000 people looking for a connection between consumption of certain types of drinks and the development of type 2 diabetes.  The drinks were sugary sodas, juices and nectars, as well as artificially-sweetened drinks. 

They found that for every one and half extra glasses of drink (12oz. or approximately one can) consumed, the risk of developing diabetes increased by 22% in the case of sugar-sweetened, and 52% for diet drinks.

When allowance was made for the influence of high overall energy intake and high body mass index on the results, an increase in risk of diabetes of 18% still remained – but only for sugar-sweetened drinks - not diet drinks.  (It was possible that people who ate more or were more obese, and therefore already at risk of developing diabetes, chose diet drinks.  The implication being that the drinks were not the cause of the diabetes).

No link was found between drinking juices and nectars and the development of diabetes.

This study was in a European population but similar results have been seen in American studies.

The link between sugar consumption and diabetes

It is known that high sugar consumption, particularly from drinks, is associated with development of type 2 diabetes.  

One factor is that when drunk excessively, these drinks boost calorie intake, leading to weight increase which is associated with the development of insulin resistance.

This is a prediabetic condition in which cells become less sensitive to the effects of insulin, which lowers blood sugar.  The pancreas churns out increasing quantities of insulin to try and overcome the resistance and eventually becomes exhausted. By this stage the person would have acquired type 2 diabetes and be looking at daily insulin shots to replace the pancreas’ function.

The other factor with sugary drinks is that the sugar is rapidly absorbed (quicker than from foods) and leads to a ‘spike’ in blood glucose levels, requiring an equivalent hike in insulin levels to return glucose levels to normal.  When rapid increases in blood glucose and insulin levels become frequent, they can also lead to the development of insulin resistance and all that it entails.

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