We know that sugary sodas aren't good for our bodies; now it turns out that they may not be good for our minds, either. A new study of more than 260,000 people has found a link between sweetened soft-drinks and depression- and diet sodas may be making matters worse.
Americans drink far more soda than people in other countries -- as much as 170 liters per person per year (no wonder New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg banned super-sized servings). But the impact of this study isn't limited to the United States.
"Sweetened beverages, coffee and tea are commonly consumed worldwide and have important physical-and may have important mental-health consequences," study author Dr. Honglei Chen, an investigator at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences,said in a statement.
The recently released study involved 263,925 people between the ages of 50 and 71. Researchers tracked their consumption of beverages like soda, tea, coffee, and other soft drinks from 1995 to 1996 and then, 10 years later, asked them if they had been diagnosed with depression since the year 2000. More than 11,300 of them had.
Participants who drank more than four servings of soda per day were 30 percent more likely to develop depression than participants who did not drink soda at all. People who stuck with fruit punch had a 38 percent higher risk than people who didn't drink sweetened drinks.
And all that extra sugar isn't the actual problem: The research showed that low-calorie diet sodas, iced teas, and fruit punches were linked to an slightly higher risk of depression than the high-calorie stuff. Researchers say that the artificial sweetener aspartame may be to blame.
"Our findings are preliminary, and the underlying biological mechanisms are not known," said Chen. The study found an association but could not conclusively determine whether sodas and other sweet soft drinks cause depression, even after taking into account factors like age, gender, education, smoking, body mass index (BMI) and other issues. Still, the results "are intriguing and consistent with a small but growing body of evidence suggesting that artificially sweetened beverages may be associated with poor health outcomes."
The American Beverage Association took issue with the study, saying that "there is no credible scientific evidence linking sweetened beverage consumption to depression – of any kind."
“We may be in a new year, but there is nothing new about the ways our critics try to attack our industry," said the ABA. "This research is nothing more than an abstract – it has not been peer-reviewed, published or even, at the very least, presented at a scientific meeting. Furthermore, neither this abstract nor the body of scientific evidence supports that drinking soda or other sweetened beverages causes depression. Thus, promoting any alleged findings without supporting evidence is not only premature, but irresponsible.”
Aspartame And The Link With Depression and Migraines
If you do develop migraines after drinking or eating aspartame-sweetened foods, you're definitely not alone. Dr. Mary D. Eades, in her book, The Doctor's Complete Guide to Vitamins and Minerals, reports that aspartame is the trigger for migraines in roughly 10 percent of all migraine patients. If that percentage sounds high to you, then you'll be floored by the results of a University of Florida study. According to Jean Carper's Food: Your Miracle Medicine, aspartame increased migraine frequency in more than 50 percent of the migraine patients who participated in the study. Additionally, Carper writes, "[The test subjects'] headaches lasted longer and some subjects experienced an increase in 'unusual symptoms' during aspartame-inspired headaches, such as dizziness, shakiness and diminished vision."
Though migraines are not fatal, even when accompanied by "unusual symptoms," they can be a precursor to potentially fatal grand mal seizures and convulsions. "Most [convulsion sufferers] had additional aspartame-associated complaints that also intensified prior to the onset of convulsions. Migraine and related headaches were the most impressive. In fact, half of the aspartame reactors with grand mal convulsions who completed the survey questionnaire had suffered prior migraine or other severe headaches," writes Dr. H.J. Roberts in Aspartame (NutraSweet): Is It Safe?
Scientists do not know exactly how aspartame causes migraines, but many believe it has something to do with the biochemical serotonin, which controls everything from appetite to moods to sleepiness. According to Gary Null's book, Get Healthy Now, aspartame may lower serotonin levels, exacerbating disorders like depression and, of course, contribute to migraines.
If you're an aspartame junky and can't imagine giving up your favorite aspartame-sweetened foods and drinks, try using a natural sweetener like stevia. You don't have to sacrifice your sweet tooth to be free from migraines.
The Experts Speak on Aspartame
There is also evidence that aspartame can worsen depression in those already suffering from the condition, may cause weight gain and insomnia, worsen diabetic control, aggravate multiple sclerosis and other neurological diseases, precipitate migraine headaches…One component of aspartame is aspartic acid, a known excitotoxin. Even small concentrations in gum have been shown to precipitate headaches.
Health And Nutrition Secrets by Russell L Blaylock MD, page 197
...one example comes from another Monsanto product, aspartame, originally developed by Searle Pharmaceutical Company. Shocking testimony reveals that thousands of volunteered complaints have been received by the FDA from aspartame users, use of which has been associated with hundreds of ailments. They include migraines, seizures, vision problems, depression and memory loss.
Milk The Deadly Poison by Robert Cohen, page 136
Patients complaining of migraines or epileptic episodes are given EEGs and referred to neurologists. They are rarely asked whether they drink diet soda or use aspartame, both of which have been associated with headaches and seizures.
Milk The Deadly Poison by Robert Cohen, page 210
Dr. Richard Wurtman, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reported in 1986 that he had been contacted by more than 100 persons who claimed to have experienced aspartame-associated seizures. He said that he was struck by the frequency of previous migraine headaches in these individuals. They noted that their headaches intensify prior to their convulsions. In 1987, Dr. Wurtman reported that his experiments indicated that aspartame in low doses enhances seizures in animals that are predisposed to unusual brain activity.
Miracle Of Stevia by James A May, page 187