Diet Sodas Linked to Depression

Flat Diet Coke | Photo: jontintinjordan/Flickr/Creative Commons License

There's a tried and true phrase that everyone who has tried to lose some weight or become healthier repeats, over and over, almost like a meditative mantra whenever they're ready to eat: If it tastes good, it's bad for you.

While the accuracy of this sentiment is certainly up for debate -- a truer rule should be "if it tastes good, then you most likely already stuffed yourself with too much of it," seeing as it's more our inability to eat tasty foods in moderation that causes obesity -- it is, overall, a good way to guard against overeating too many sugars, salts and fats. At least, that was a good rule before diet soda came around.

When drinks such as Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Tab, Diet Sprite and on and on and on started flooding the markets, people were finally given their taste loophole. By ingesting their sweets via chemically-created artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, stevia and the like, consumers could get their fix without also ingesting the high caloric content that comes with regular sodas. Sure, the flavor wasn't entirely the same -- it kind of had a medicinal or unspecified "chemical" quality to it. But soon enough, the taste buds adjusted and diet sodas were just part of the normal routine. And when that taste bud morphing (or, "lowering of the bar," if you will) was complete, consumers were free to drink as much diet soda as they wanted without repercussion.

Of course, people weren't able to completely buy into this sentiment. Again, if it tastes good, it kind of has to be bad for you. Just because there wasn't any evidence proving this wasn't the case with diet soda didn't mean none existed. It just hasn't been found yet. Well, turns out scientists may have finally found some, after the release of a new study that suggests sweetened drinks may be linked to depression:

People who drank more than four cans or cups per day of soda were 30 percent more likely to develop depression than those who drank no soda. Those who drank four cans of fruit punch per day were about 38 percent more likely to develop depression than those who did not drink sweetened drinks. People who drank four cups of coffee per day were about 10 percent less likely to develop depression than those who drank no coffee.

But don't toss out all of your 24-cases of Diet Pepsi just yet, aspartame aficionados. There's a key word in the finding that gives you some hope to cling onto, and that word is "may." As the Smithsonian Mag blog helpfully points out, there's a link that has yet to be accounted in this study, and that's the difference between causality and correlation. The questions they ask to help break these two down:

Do the ingredients in both diet sodas and normally-sweetened drinks trigger changes in the brain chemistry that lead to depression? Or are people with the tendency to become depressed simply more likely to drink these beverages in the first place?

To compare it to another debate currently raging through the country, it's the same question psychologists and lawmakers are dwelling over in regards to the link between shooting sprees and violence on TV/in video games: Does the latter create the former? Or are people predisposed to participate in the former simply attracted to the latter?

Which is all a way of saying, maybe cutting diet sodas completely out isn't yet called for. While it tastes great, it still may not be bad for you. But, just in case, why not follow the updated rules from the blogger sited above, and simply bring down the consumption to a level of respectable moderation.

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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