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The other day, I was with a new patient doing a health check. This particularly spirited teenager was testing me on a lot of the health advice I was giving about nutrition (What?! A teenager being testy? Never!). When we discussed the health consequences of her daily Mountain Dew habit, she asked me to prove it. Well, spunky patient, consider your challenge accepted.
Turns out, there are a lot of negative health effects associated with drinking sugary beverages like juice, energy drinks, and soda (Yes, it's called "soda." Not "pop." Those of you who call it "pop" are wrong ... Just kidding, call it what you want.) And, my feisty patient is not alone in her regular consumption. Our teenagers are drinking A LOT of soda. According to the most recent CDC youth risk survey:
77.7 percent of high school students drank a can, bottle, or class of soda or pop (the CDC is more politically correct than I am) in the past 7 days
27 percent drank a can, bottle, or glass of soda or pop at least once daily in the past 7 days
19.4 percent drank a can, bottle, or glass of soda or pop at least twice daily in the past 7 days
11.2 percent drank a can, bottle, or glass of soda or pop at least 3 times daily in the past 7 days (Whoa!!)
One of the negative effects of all this sugary beverage consumption is on the waist-line. One can of regular soda has about 140 calories and 40 grams of sugar or more (click here for a wonderful visual representation). This may not seem like a lot; however one can of regular soda every day for one year translates to roughly 10 lbs of weight gain. And weight gain can lead to obesity. Obesity can lead to other health consequences, including death. A fascinating research article published two weeks ago in Circulation blames a lot of deaths on sugary beverages. The study found that sugary beverages are responsible for 133,000 deaths from diabetes, 45,000 from cardiovascular disease and 6,450 from cancer. Overall, that means one in every 100 deaths from obesity-related diseases is caused by sugary beverages.
Another effect of sugary beverage intake is on the teeth. The Wisconsin Dental Association has a handy little saying: "Sip all day, get decay." Other than being catchy (I love a good health-related rhyme) it is absolutely true. Sugar in soda and other sugary beverages combines with bacteria in your mouth to form acid, which attacks the teeth. Each acid attack lasts about 20 minutes and starts over with every sip of soda you take. These ongoing acid attacks weaken tooth enamel, leading to cavities. (Note to diet soda drinkers: You are not in the clear. Diet soda contains its own acid, which also can damage teeth).
An interesting negative effect of sugary beverages is on the brain. A study done at the University of Southern California showed that sugary beverages can negatively impact memory. The scientists gave adolescent rats sugar-sweetened drinks and watched them try to navigate through mazes, comparing these rats to a control group of adolescent rats given plain water. The adolescent rats on sugar couldn't learn or remember the mazes as well as the control adolescent rats, and their brains showed a specific area of inflammation after sugar consumption. The interesting part: sugar did not have the same effect on the brains of adult rats. This may demonstrate that the brain is especially vulnerable to sugary beverages during critical periods of development, like adolescence.
In summary, cutting down (or preferably cutting out) sugary beverage intake may be one of the best things you can do for your health! What should you drink instead? Water and milk. That's about it.
Note: This blog obviously focused on the sugar part of these beverages, but let's not forget the dangers of large amounts of caffeine, which has its own consequences and can be fatal in extreme cases.