The Pop Problem
It’s 2018 and we have a wealth of information at our fingertips. Sure, it’s also the time of “fake news” and there seems to be lot of conflicting information out there – especially when it comes to health news. However, one narrative that really hasn’t changed is how drinking pop (“soda” or “coke” depending on where you’re from) is wearing away at the health of Americans and everyone else in the world.
Even hearing all the reports and studies talking about their evils, soft drinks still remain, as Pepsi put it, “the choice of [our] new generation.” It makes us fat. It makes us addicted. It makes us cranky. It gives us diabetes. We know all this. But just listen to the complaints when that’s the first suggestion in cleaning up our diet. I recall a family member of mine shouting “if I can’t enjoy a Coke, there’s not much point trying to enjoy anything else!” How refreshing.
When I suggested dropping soda from his diet, he gave me the same reasons that I’ve heard from multiple patients before. “I’m not overweight.” “My blood sugar is in a normal range.” “I walk each day so I can have this.” “I feel fine.” But the sad part is they don’t really feel fine. That family member barely has energy to move around the house doing chores anymore. He has pounding headaches every day. He can’t sleep for longer than 2 or 3 hours at a time. Everything aches. My patients will say the same thing. Maybe for some living in constant pain and losing your ability to function is “fine” – as long as you can enjoy that Coke.
I think part of the problem is that while most people know soft drinks can have a negative effect on your health, they may not know just how much these sugary drinks do. Let’s explore some of the ways besides obesity that our addiction to pop is slowly poisoning us into misery.
Let’s begin with the obvious. The caffeine in most soft drinks is associated with higher risks of nervousness, jitteriness, and fidgetiness. Caffeine consumption causes excitement of the reticular system in the brain – leading to insomnia, psychomotor agitation and headaches. While it’s mildly addictive, I think we’ve all seen the effects of caffeine withdrawal (headache, anxiety, irritability, difficulty concentrating) when one of our co-workers try to give it up. Another study showed that both caffeine and sucrose were able to cause anxiety symptoms while also making changes that were similar to Alzheimer disease. Aspartame, a common artificial sweetener, also comes with it’s problems. Researchers have shown regular consumption of aspartame is associated with a higher risk of stroke and dementia as well as ill-effects on aldosterone, thyroid hormone, and parathyroid hormone levels.
Quality sleep is crucial for maintaining nearly every aspect of your health. Drinking soda affects both the quality and quantity of sleep you can achieve. Regular consumption (one beverage or more most days of the week) of soft drinks and other sugary beverages was associated with insomnia, daytime fatigue, and poorer sleep quality.
Caffeine can affect the brain development, myelination, and synaptic pruning processes in children which could lead to issues like anxiety, nervousness, trouble sleeping and jitteriness. Early caffeine use has also been associated with a higher likelihood of alcohol dependence in adulthood. Sodium benzoate, an ingredient found in several foods and drinks (especially soft drinks) has been linked to attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as well as memory and motor coordination issues.
As if you needed another reason to feel guilty about pregnancy cravings. A couple studies looked at the effects of high sugar consumption (especially from sugary drinks) during pregnancy and its effects on the children. They found positive correlations between the higher sugar intakes with their children’s obesity rates as well as cognitive dysfunction.
Soda drinks sweetened with sugar have long been associated with a higher incidence of diabetes and cardiovascular events. That should be an easy truth to handle. However many people don’t realize that artificially sweetened beverages are also associated with a higher risk of developing diabetes. The reasons why artificial sweeteners increase this risk still aren’t perfectly clear. Some theorize that consuming the artificial sweeteners just increases cravings for other high sugary foods while other suggest the artificial sweeteners affect how our bodies interpret the make up of the food we eat.
The other question I often get after explaining this is “what do I drink then?” While I can’t say there’s a “perfect” drink out there, there are several better alternatives. Water should make up a majority of your fluid intake during the day, but that can get boring for just about everyone. Try adding fruit in with the water to infuse it with some flavor or trying tea (preferably decaf) if you want to keep things simple. Juicing or making smoothies at home can be a good alternative, but you’ll want to make sure to add in several vegetables and be careful of using too much fruit or vegetables with a high glycemic load (or you’ll just be loading up with sugar again). For those that “just can’t live without a Coke” though, treat it like a special treat that you indulge in very occasionally. Once you break the soft drink habit – you’ll be amazed how sugary those drinks taste if you try them again.