Two French researchers have completed an extensive study examining the risk of developing type 2 diabetes comparing the results of drinking diet sodas against soft drinks sweetened with sugar.
The research was carried out by Françoise Clavel-Chapelon and Gustave Roussy, two researchers attached to the French government body L’Institut nationale de la santé et de la recherche médicale (INSERM) – the National Institute for Health and Medical Research.
The study compared the relationship between the consumption of sugar sweetened sodas and diet or ‘light’ sodas, sweetened principally with aspartame, and the risk of type 2 diabetes.
The analysis was conducted with a wide ranging sample comprising 66,188 women in France, part of France’s wide ranging E3N study. The women were born between the years 1925 and 1950 and over a period of years from 1993 to 1997 regularly completed questionnaires every two or three years revealing their drinking habits.
The research showed that, contrary to popular belief, the risk of diabetes may be higher amongst those consuming diet sodas as opposed to sugar sweetened ones. The researchers say further studies are required to corroborate their results. The full results of the study can be found on the INSERM website (in French) and an article detailing the results has been published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
In France, more than 3 million people suffer from diabetes with the vast majority (90%) having Type 2 diabetes. It is generally accepted, the researchers say, that the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages is linked to an increased risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. They highlight that that the effect of light or diet beverages on cardiometabolic diseases is less well known.
The study showed that women who consume artificially sweetened beverages (ASBs) drink more than women whose preferred taste is sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs). The comparative figures were 2.8 glasses of ASBs per week as against 1.6 glasses of SSBs per week.
When the authors compared groups within the sample of women reporting drinking similar amounts of SSBs and ASBs respectively, the results showed a 15% higher risk of diabetes amongst ASB drinkers consuming 500ml per week and a 59% higher risk of diabetes for those who reported drinking 1.5 liters per week.
The researchers also looked at women who abstained from SSBs and ASBs and drank only fruit juice. In the latter category, drinking fruit juice showed no association with developing diabetes.
Explaining the results
The researchers from INSERM suggest several ways of explaining why their results appear to show an increased risk of diabetes from a high consumption of ASBs:
• In terms of calories, these drinks to not replace solid foods because drinking sugary drinks does not satiate the appetite. The calories from sugary drinks are simply added to the calorie intake from solid foods. On the other hand, the sugars in soft drinks cause an insulin spike. Repeated , such spikes can cause insulin resistance
• Particularly in relation to ASBs, the relationship with diabetes may be explained in part by a stronger appetite for sugar in general arising from the consumption of ASBs. On the other hand, aspartame, one of the main sweeteners used in ASBs, induces an increase in blood sugar levels, and thus an increase in insulin levels, comparable to that produced by sucrose.
The researchers conclude by saying the consumption of sweetened beverages increases the risk of obesity, itself a risk factor for diabetes, but in the E3N group studied, the research team saw a correlation between high consumption of sweetened beverages and diabetes independent of the body size of women.
For the first time, they established that in France, a high intake of sugary drinks (both SSBs and ASBs) was associated with a significantly increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, with the risk being even greater for ‘light’ or ‘diet’ drinks. such as "light". They recommend further studies to examine the effects of ASBs before any results may be confirmed.