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Too Much Soda May Be Shrinking Your Brain

New research links both sugary and diet drinks to potential brain damage.

Pixabay; used with permission.
Source: Pixabay; used with permission.

A study published April 2017 by researchers at Boston University that included 2,888 men and women linked sugary beverages—like sodas and fruit juices—to memory loss and reduced brain volume, especially in the area of the brain that involves memory and learning. In a follow-up study, the same researchers found that people who drink at least one diet (artificially sweetened) soda a day appear to have three times higher risk of having a stroke or developing dementia than those who don’t drink diet sodas.

Some things about this study should be explained: The researchers used soda consumption as a marker because it is much easier to account for the amount of sugar or other sweetener consumed in a specific amount of soda than in a person’s overall diet. So it is not necessarily the drinks themselves that cause the problems, but rather their sweeteners. And when it came to diet drinks, the researchers did not look at specific types of artificial sweeteners. Also, the researchers acknowledge that further studies need to be done to account for the fact that people with diabetes tend to drink more diet sodas than the general population, and diabetes in and of itself can increase the risk of dementia and other conditions linked to sugar.

But since sugar sweetened beverages are known to be the primary source of added sugar in the American diet, and too much sugar in the diet has been shown to contribute to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and related conditions, this study does add to the growing body of information that tells us why sugary foods and drinks are unhealthy, and suggests that artificially sweetened food and drinks may not be much better.

A much healthier choice, of course, is to develop a water habit. If that sounds too boring, try jazzing up a glass of water with healthy add-ins. You might be surprised to find out how much flavor you get from adding a few crushed strawberries and a sprig of mint, a slice or two of cucumber, or a cube of watermelon or other fresh fruit to a tall glass of cold tap or carbonated water. Better yet, make naturally flavored water by the pitcher so you have it on hand in the fridge when you’re feeling thirsty. In the meantime, this blog can help you understand why sugar is so hard to resist, and this one can help you understand why it’s so hard to give it up, even though you know it's not good for you.


Matthew P. Pase et al. Sugar- and Artificially Sweetened Beverages and the Risks of Incident Stroke and Dementia: A Prospective Cohort Study. Stroke, April 2017 DOI: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.116.016027

Matthew P. Pase, Jayandra J. Himali, Paul F. Jacques, Charles DeCarli, Claudia L. Satizabal, Hugo Aparicio, Ramachandran S. Vasan, Alexa S. Beiser, Sudha Seshadri. Sugary beverage intake and preclinical Alzheimer's disease in the community. Alzheimer's & Dementia, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.jalz.2017.01.024

Malik VS, Popkin BM, Bray GA, Despres J-P, Hu F. Sugar-sweetened beverages, obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease risk. Circulation. 2010;121:1356-1364.