Diet sodas may be calorie-free, but they’re just as likely to cause diabetes in frequent drinkers as non-diet sodas, says a new study.
Researchers from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute found that sugary drinks – whether artificially or naturally sweetened – can double a person’s chances of developing a form of diabetes known as latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA).
The new findings add to the growing body of literature tying high-sugar drinks to a heightened risk of type 2 and other forms of diabetes. They also come on the heels of related studies showing that diet sodas can hamper weight loss.
“Consuming large amounts of sweetened beverages, especially sugary drinks, may increase the risk of both type 2 diabetes and LADA. The excess risk is seen even after adjustments for overweight and lifestyle factors,” said Josefin Edwall Lofvenborg, a nutritionist with the Karolinska’s Institute of Environmental Medicine, in a statement.
The alarming factor is how minimal of soda consumption is required to increase one’s risk of becoming diabetic. The research team noted that two servings of 200 milliliter sodas – or roughly 14 ounces, which is slightly more than a can of soda – leads to a significantly higher chance of diabetes, according to the study results.
Each daily serving of sweetened beverages was associated with a 15% greater chance of developing LADA and a 20% chance of type 2 diabetes.
A different form of diabetes, similar results
LADA, which occurs when the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin over time, is a “hybrid form of diabetes with features of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes,” note the study authors. It affects about 10% of the adult population, according to reports.
The research team at Karolinska Institute found the link between sugary-drink intake and LADA incidence “resembled that with type 2 diabetes, suggesting common pathways possibly involving insulin resistance.”
Pertaining to LADA risk, the team discovered “excess risk in high consumers of artificially sweetened beverages,” which corresponds to previous studies assessing the link between those beverages and the occurrence of standard type 2 diabetes.
Despite the heightened risk, researchers don’t fully understand the link between artificially sweetened beverages, such as diet soda, and forms of diabetes.
“Although not containing sugars and thus not contributing to caloric intake, it has been suggested that artificially sweetened beverages may stimulate appetite, which may lead to positive energy balance and weight gain,” note the authors.
They also speculate that artificial sweeteners are tied to greater abdominal fat and “gut microbiota” that are linked to greater glucose intolerance. Or it could be that drinkers of diet soda “have swapped from sugar-sweetened beverages to prevent further weight gain.”
But either way you slice it, “these findings add support to the accumulating evidence suggesting that high intake of sweetened beverages, both sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened, is a potential risk factor for type 2 diabetes” and also “encompass autoimmune forms of diabetes,” according to the study authors.
The LADA findings are based on the Karolinska Institute’s ESTRID study, which includes data on nearly 1,500 cases of diabetes to survey how environmental and genetic factors impact the disease.
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.