Don’t drink diet soda in Manhattan (2/11/11)
Just When You Thought It Was Safe
New research done with 2,564 North Manhattan residents by the Neurology Department at Columbia (the NOMAS study) may make diet soda drinkers pause before they take that next sip. After controlling for elements like total calories, cigarettes and alcohol, daily drinking of diet soda was associated with a 61% increase in cardiovascular disease.
No heart disease increase was seen with those drinking regular soda.
Does this mean that drinking Tab will give you a heart attack? That to your neighbor’s offer of diet Pepsi you say, “No mas”?
Association and Causality
There are lots of reasons diet soda may not cause heart disease – directly or indirectly. People who drink diet sodas may
- Prefer Burger King and fries to other repasts – and still eat the same number of calories as others
- Feel virtuous at not imbibing “real” soda, and stock up on more sugar elsewhere
- Be sufficiently health conscious to think diet soda will help control their diet, even though studies show the opposite, and not pay attempt as many other healthy behaviors as others (in this study exercise levels were supposedly controlled)
- The increased heart disease risk may be related to other risk factors involved in drinking diet soda that no one has yet studied (count this one as likely – even though already there are approximately 700-800 “risk factors” for heart disease)
- The statistical “controls”: as in the famous Nurse’s study that erroneously concluded hormone replacement therapy decreased heart attack risk by 50%, perhaps the statistical manipulations did not fully control for the thousands of different kinds of bias any clinical study may face.
That still does not mean diet sodas are good for you, of course.
What’s to Drink?
What is the advantage of drinking diet sodas? Beyond lack of calories? Here are a few problems and potentials associated with their use:
A. Many people who drink sugary drinks find their appetite is not decreased – particularly for more sugar.
B. Diet sodas are expensive – and all those aluminum cans and PET bottles have to go somewhere in our increasingly polluted environment.
C. Diet soda’s main ingredient, water, is at least as refreshing, and does not contain materials taken from a petrochemical barrel (many years ago in New York one major concern of interns, residents and staff was whether the price of Tab really did fluctuate with the international oil price.)
D. The additives placed in diet sodas do end up in the environment, where their effects on other life, wild or not, is generally not salutary.
E. New York has pretty good water resources. In recent years many other municipalities have improved their water and filtration controls.
- Cheap filters are available for most homes that can purify water inexpensively.
G. Water drunk before a meal, particularly more than eight ounces, decreases overall appetite and can help control weight – the whole point, supposedly, of drinking diet soda.
Water may someday became the new “oil.” But fortunately for us, water is still abundant in most of the US, with the Southwest the major exception.
With new information technologies, water need not be as titanically wasted as at present. New York’s famously old pipes supposedly waste half the water supply – a case where new infrastructure funding may do a lot of good.
There are however, many future obstacles for good potable water. Fracking and other processes that dump in diesel and other chemicals to smash natural gas and oil out of rock formations can easily foul groundwater. Yet regulations that respect human water use can prevent polluting groundwater while creating a far greater national supply of natural gas. For all its problems, natural gas burns far more cleanly than coal or petroleum.
So don’t worry about sloshing down your soda with your next meal – or finding your favorite diet soda at the restaurant.
A glass of water is just a faucet’s distance away.
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