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Dr. L. William Lauro, M.D.
Monday, April 27 2009

ASK DR. LAURO: Lesser Known Risks of Carbonated Drinks

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Lesser Known Risks of Carbonated Drinks

Dear Dr Lauro:

I drink a lot of caffeine-free diet sodas. People keep saying that this is bad for me but I’ve done it for 20 years with no ill effects. I do worry, however about the possibility of bladder cancer in the future. All the research I have read from “traditional” medical sources say this is not very likely, yet the “alternative” sources hound on the “evils” of artificial sweeteners. I do take calcium supplements daily. What is your opinion? Pam Kebker.

Dr. Lauro responds:

There are actually several points to be made about drinking soda pop, whether it is diet or not. First of all I do not know of any “traditional” medical research that indicates artificial sweeteners cause bladder cancer. I am sure more studies will be done in the future to confirm this but I am not worried about this aspect of diet soda pop. However, I do worry about some other things that I would like you to think about.

First of all many of these soda drink have a lot of caffeine in them even when you don’t suspect it. Mountain Dew is a typical example—it is clear colored (unlike coffee, tea, and coca cola) so you wouldn’t expect to find caffeine in it; and it is advertised as a fruity drink which you again would not identify with caffeine. Make sure you look at the labels.

Well, you might ask, what is wrong with caffeine? It is a stimulant that can over-drive your heart, causing palpitations and irregularities. It can stimulate your brain causing insomnia, irritability, and, when you try and quit it, can cause pretty bad headaches. It is also a weak diuretic which can push your kidneys to secrete more water than they should, especially in this hot summer weather we are having. Regarding Church policy, I do not know of any “official” statements condemning caffeine per se, although it has been suggested by some leaders privately that we should try to avoid it if possible.

The next concern I have is the acidic nature of these carbonated drinks. The pH of soda pop is about 2 to 3 (neutral pH is 7—this is what our blood stream is). Granted, the pH of our stomachs, which secrete acid normally, is about 1-2, but adding extra acid to the stomach in the form of excessive soda pop can, in some cases, reflux up into the esophagus where it can cause trouble. Also, the carbonation causes increased gas in the stomach, which can stretch the lower esophageal sphincter (the trap door that keeps stomach contents in the stomach and not refluxing back into the esophagus) thus promoting reflux of acid backwards where it isn’t supposed to be.

Next, we are finding out more and more how beneficial drinking just plain water can be. You see, plain water has a very low osmotic force to it so it tends to dilute the bloodstream and thereby reduces blood pressure and blood viscosity (“stickiness, thickness of the blood” if you will), which can lead to better vascular health. Soda pops do not have this quality even though many are low in sodium. They still have many other additives, which create a higher osmotic load. I would rather see you drink more water (and less soda pop).

Go ahead and have a diet soda once in a while without worrying, but be careful about drinking these all day long like I see in so many of my patients doing. I think people believe that the only reason God gave us two hands was so we could hold our cell phones in one hand and our 64 ounce “Big Gulps” in the other! And of course a third hand would have been beneficial to hold that donut we all seem to have at our morning work break—NOT! Best wishes.

Dr. Lauro.


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