Fizzy drinks, sweeteners and the risk to your health

Are Fizzy Drinks Making You Ill?

Dr Anita tells us more…..

 

According to the British Soft Drinks association, we are guzzling more fizzy drinks than ever before, with the average person in the UK drinking around 230 litres of fizzy drinks over the year.

We clearly like our soft drinks but are they safe?

The latest medical evidence is stacking up against them and I am often asked in my GP surgery about my opinion on fizzy drinks.

Most doctors would agree that keeping your body well hydrated is important for health and wellbeing but most generally advise avoiding the fizzy stuff and sticking to the natural alternatives, such as water instead.

Some studies have shown that regular consumption of fizzy drinks, can cause weight gain and long-term health problems if drunk every day, even for as little as a month.

More recent research has also suggested that fizzy drinks may sway our tastes towards high-calorie, high-salt food. It seems that our tastes for food and drink seem to be shaped in a like-with-like manner.

This discovery comes on top of an earlier finding, by heart experts at St George’s, University of London, that those who consume sugary soft drinks are far more likely to prefer foods high in salt.

Doctors are in no doubt  the biggest danger from many of the popular fizzy drinks doesn’t come from the hidden additives, flavourings  or colourings but from sugar. Sugar has been dominating the headlines, with experts claiming it to be highly toxic to the body. New research suggests that sugar could be one of the leading causes of illness and death in the UK, with claims that it is toxic and that it should be regulated in the same way as alcohol and tobacco.

 

So how does sugar actually harm our bodies?

My top to toe guide of how sugar can damage your vital organs:

 

Brain: The over-consumption of sugar has been linked to depression, poor memory formation and learning disorders in studies. Scientists have no also identified a possible increased risk of dementia

 

Teeth: dental caries. Fizzy drinks are also bad for our teeth.

Each regular can of cola contains eight teaspoons of sugar which can increase our risks of tooth and gum disease.

A study in the Journal General Dentistry found that cola is ten times as corrosive as fruit juice in the first three minutes of drinking. One study found that drinking four cans of fizzy drink a day increased the risk of tooth erosion by 252 per cent. Remember also that Diet fizzy drinks  contain sweeteners but still contains chemicals that can rot the teeth

One of the chief culprits for dental disease in these drinks is citric acid, which gives tangy drinks their kick.

Citric acid can make the drink nearly as corrosive as battery acid, when it comes to teeth.

Prolonged exposure to cola and other fizzy drinks strips tooth enamel causing pain, sensitivity, tooth decay and gum disease. A study in the journal General Dentistry found that cola is ten times as corrosive as fruit juices in the first three minutes of drinking.

The researchers took slices of freshly extracted teeth and immersed them in 20 soft drinks. Teeth dunked for 48 hours in cola and lemonade lost more than five per cent of their weight.

Skin:premature ageing as the sugar damages our skin cells and collagen bonds

Heart: sugar causes a buildup of bad fats that block our arteries and can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Weight: Too much sugar can lead to a buildup of fat around our belly’s increasing our risks of getting Type 2 Diabetes.

Liver: Excess sugar can increase a build-up of fat around our livers, leading to Fatty liver disease, which can result in liver failure.

Kidneys: Sugar can be damaging to our kidneys, resulting in high blood pressure and reduced kidney function

Bones: some studies have suggested a link between carbonated drinks and  weaker bones. Several studies have shown that females who regularly drink carbonated drinks are three times more likely to have thinning of their bones (Osteopenia). One theory is that Phosphoric acid used as a preservative in some fizzy drinks reduces the absorption of calcium into the bones. Other specialists say that you would have to drink very large quantities of fizzy drinks to see this effect but do agree that it would be better to swap fizzy drinks for healthier options such as low fat milk, water, herbal teas  and low sugar fruit juice.

Immune system: Sugar has been shown to weaken our immune systems and increase ones risk of cancer.

Addiction:The cane and beet sugar used in Cola and other fizzy is used up quickly by the body,  which soon experiences a  rapid drop in energy, leading to cravings for more sugar. The sugar rush also stimulates the pleasure receptors in our brains to release a chemical called dopamine which makes us feel good. We then  crave more of this ‘feel good’ feeling and often turn to more of the same and this can become an addictive pattern of behaviour, particularly in children.

 

What about the caffeine in fizzy drinks?

Most Doctors and Dietitians advise keeping caffeine to a minimum, with a maximum daily intake of 400 mg per day. Too much caffeine can lead to palpitations, high blood pressure, dizzy spells, shakes, headaches, dehydration (acts as a diuretic).

 

Hyperactivity: There is much controversy as to whether consumption of fizzy drinks can lead to hyperactivity in children.  One study at the University of Surrey found that tartrazine, a colouring known as E102 and phosphates or E338 can increase muscle activity in children, leading to hyperactivity. The British Dietetic Association say hyperactivity can be caused by a number of different reasons  including behavioural problems. There is no strong evidence alone that fizzy drinks will make your child hyperactive but it is certainly sensible to focus on making their diets as healthy as possible, to eliminate this factor.


Earlier this year, France imposed a tax on sugary soft drinks after a study found that more than 20 million of its citizens are overweight.

Health campaigners here are pressing for a similar tax. Researchers at Oxford University calculate that a 20 per cent tax on soft drinks would reduce obesity and overweight in Britain by 1 per cent — roughly 400,000 cases across Britain.


So what about artificial sweeteners?


Artificially sweetened fizzy drinks are often referred to as diet drinks because the sweeteners used are very low calorie or no calorie. Most Doctors would say that artificial sweeteners are substances with no nutritional value and therefore are not of benefit to the body. One could argue that surely diet drinks are better than consuming the full fat full sugar versions. It would make sense to assume that low or zero calorie drinks would not contribute to weight gain but some research studies have indicated that diet drinks may be associated with weight gain.

One theory is that they help to promote cravings for sweetness and cause people to eat sweeter foods. A counter argument is that there may just be a general trend that people who already have a less healthy diet may have a higher tendency to consume diet drinks.

Research indicates that sugary soft drinks are linked with Type 2 Diabetes and research indicates that there may also be an association between artificially sweetened beverages too.

A French study, published in 2013, even indicated that the risk of type 2 diabetes may even be higher for those that regularly consume diet soft drinks than people that consume sugary versions.

There has been a lot of debate about the safety of sweeteners with some health campaigners taking the view that they can lead to a range of problems ranging from depression to digestive disorders and the aforementioned type 2 diabetes.

We also have no long term safety about the potential health risks from consuming the newer sweeteners such as Stevia. My advice is to choose the healthier drink alternatives, such as low fat milk and water. If you are going to drink squashes make sure you dilute them well.

In response to the concerns about safety, pro-artificial sweetener lobbying groups such as the Calorie Control Council have funded studies and conducted PR campaigns to reassure consumers.

My overall thoughts on fizzy drinks are to avoid them where possible. Keep your body well hydrated with water instead.