Diet drinks linked to depression

Kimberly Gillan
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Image: Thinkstock

A large US study has found a link between drinking diet soft drink and depression.

Studying more than 250,000 people, the researchers from the National Institutes of Health in North Carolina found depression was more common in people who drank artificially sweetened drinks regularly.

The participants filled out questionnaires about their drink habits between 1995 and 1996. Ten years later, the researchers followed up with them to find out how many had been diagnosed with depression.

They found drinking four cans of diet drinks a day increased the participants' depression risk by 31 percent. Drinking normal soft drink increased their risk by 22 percent, however the researchers did not establish a cause for the link in either case.

They also found people who drank four cups of coffee a day were 10 percent less likely to be diagnosed with depression than people who drank no coffee.

"Our research suggests that cutting out or down on sweetened diet drinks or replacing them with unsweetened coffee may naturally help lower your depression risk," said lead researcher Dr Honglei Chen, of the National Institutes of Health in North Carolina.

Artificial sweeteners have been in the science spotlight in the past, with research finding rats fed high doses could develop bladder cancer. However considering they were fed levels thousands of times higher than humans consume, Australian guidelines say they are safe to consume.

Julie Gilbert, spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, said drinking more than four cans of diet soft drink a day could mean that people are sacrificing healthy foods and water, which could put them at risk of depression.

However she said most people can get away with one or two cans a day without any adverse reactions.

"We do know that it's okay to drink diet soft drink –– there is enough evidence that you could have 12 diet soft drink cans a day and have no harmful effects," she said.

"For some people, having a can of diet soft drink can control sweet cravings in the afternoon."

Gilbert said the biggest biggest risk of drinking excessive amounts is that they program your body to want sweet foods.

"Of course, it's okay to have sweet things as long as it's fruit and a glass of milk, not compounded with fat, like in chocolate or donuts," she said.

The research will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting in March.

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