Diet Sodas Can Cause Weight Gain!
by F. Batmanghelidj, M.D.
(Excerpt from his book "Your Body's Many Cries for Water", GHS, Inc.)
My observation has been that diet sodas (artificially sweetened soft drinks), even though containing no appreciable number of calories, are possibly the cause of more weight gain in people who drink them to control their weight. There are countless examples of persons who drink diet sodas and, instead of losing weight, they begin to gain it. Maybe you are one of them. The following is the result of my research into this enigma.
In America in 1850, about 13 ounces of soda were consumed per person per year. In the late 1980s, more than 500 twelve-ounce cans of sodas were consumed per person per year. The 1994 annual report of the beverage industry shows that per-capita consumption of sodas is 49.1 gallons per year. Of this amount, 28.2 percent of consumption is diet soda.
A survey at the campus of Pennsylvania State University has shown that some students drank 14 cans of soda a day. One girl had consumed 37 Cokes in two days. Many admitted they could not live without these soft drinks. If deprived, these persons would develop withdrawal symptoms, very much like those addicted to other drugs. Research has proven that caffeine is addictive. The media, to placate a beverage industry that spends vast sums of money for advertising its products, have come up with a less expressive word to announce the news. They call it "caffeine dependency."
Make no mistake about it, caffeine, one of the main components of most sodas, is a drug. It has addictive properties because of its direct action on the brain. It also acts on the kidneys and causes increased urine production. Caffeine has diuretic properties, and is physiologically a dehydrating agent. This characteristic is the main reason a person is inclined to drink so many cans of soda every day and never be satisfied.
When consumption of sodas is encouraged by society, it is assumed these manufactured beverages can supply the fluid needs of the body. It is assumed that just because these beverages contain water, the body will be adequately served. This assumption is wrong. Because of the caffeine's diuretic effect, the water does not stay in the body long enough.
At the same time, many persons confuse their feeling of thirst as hunger. Thinking they have consumed enough "water" that is in the soda, they assume they are hungry and begin to eat more than their body's need for food. Thus, dehydration caused by caffeine-containing sodas, in due time, will cause a gradual gain in weight from overeating as a direct result of confusion of thirst and hunger sensations.
But switching to caffeine-free diet sodas may not be the solution. Caffeine is not the only harmful ingredient in these products that may lead to weight gain. In the early 1980s, a new product was introduced into the beverage industry--an artificial sweetener other than saccharin. It is called aspartame, otherwise known as Nutrasweet(TM). Aspartame is 180 times as sweet as sugar without any calorie output. It is now in common use because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed it safe to use in place of sugar. In a very short period of time, it has been incorporated in over 5000 product recipes.
In the intestinal tract, aspartame converts to two highly excitatory neurotransmitter amino acids: aspartate and phenylalanine, as well as methyl alcohol/formaldehyde-wood alcohol. It is claimed the liver renders methyl alcohol non-toxic. I personally think this is a false claim made to brush aside voiced objections for commercialization of a manufactured "food" that has a known toxic byproduct.
Another problem with artificial sweeteners is a reflex that occurs when the brain reacts to sweet taste. The jargon used is "cephalic phase response". When sweet taste stimulates the tongue, the brain programs the liver to prepare for acceptance of new energy--sugar--from outside. If it is indeed sugar that stimulates the response, the effect on the liver will be the proper regulation of that sugar which has entered the body. However, if sweet taste is not followed by real nutrient availability, an urge to eat will be the outcome. It is the liver that produces the signals and the urge to eat. The more sweet taste that stimulates the taste buds without the accompanying calories, the more there is an urge to eat--overeat.
The effect of cephalic phase response to sweet taste has been clearly shown in animal models with the use of saccharin. Using aspartame, several scientists have shown a similar urge to overeat in humans. Blundel and Hill have shown that non-nutritive sweeteners (aspartame in solution) will enhance appetite and increase short-term food intake. They report: "After ingestion of aspartame, the volunteers were left with a residual hunger compared with what they reported after glucose. This residual hunger is functional, it leads to increased food consumption."
Another group of researchers, Tardoff and Friedman, have shown that this urge to eat more food after artificial sweeteners can last up to 90 minutes. They showed that even when blood levels for insulin achieved normal levels (a high reading of insulin is believed to be the cause of hunger), test animals consumed more food than the control batch. What this means is that the "brain" retains for a long time the urge to eat when the taste buds for sugar are stimulated without sugar having entered the system.
The use of artificial sweeteners for their false stimulation of "nerve terminals" that register the entry of "energy" supplies into the body have more severe repercussions than simply causing increase in weight. These chemicals constantly swing the body physiology in the direction dictated by the nerve system they stimulate. Their use without a thorough understanding of their long-term effects in the body, just because they also pleasantly stimulate the taste buds, is shortsighted. My understanding of the micro-physiology within cells causes me concern when I think of the routine use of these artificial sweeteners. I worry about the outcome of the long-term effect of the direct stimulation of the nerve/glandular systems in the brain with these chemical sweeteners.
Research has shown that receptors for aspartate are abundantly present on some nerve systems associated with the reproductive organs and breasts. A constant stimulation of breast glands without the other factors associated with pregnancy may well be implicated in the rise in the rate of breast cancer in women. The hormone, prolactin, may play a major role in this direction. One of the less explored complications of aspartame may be its effect as a possible facilitator in cancer formation in the brain. Fed to rats, aspartame has been implicated in brain tumor formation in experimental animals.
It is primitive and simplistic thinking that one could easily lace water with all sorts of pleasure-enhancing chemicals and substitute these fluids for the natural and clean water that the human body needs. Some of these chemicals, caffeine, aspartame, saccharin and alcohol, through their constant lopsided effect on the brain, unidirectionally --single mindedly -- program the body chemistry with results contrary to the natural design of the body.
One should remember that caffeine is similarly an addictive drug, the use of which has become "legal." Children, in particular, become vulnerable to the addictive properties of these caffeine-containing beverages. Stimulating the body at the early stages of life of a child with pleasure-enhancing chemicals in beverages, may in some cases program the senses to seek more addictive drugs later in life.
Thus, the long-term and constant over-consumption of sodas in general, and diet sodas in particular, should be assumed to be responsible for some of the more serious health problems of our society. Distorting the physical appearance of the body (excess fat storage) is only the first indication of a problem.