We're addicted to soft drinks. According to the National Soft Drink Association, Americans drink more than 600 servings (12 ounces each) every year, and consumption is approaching a quart each day for every man, woman, and child. Males between the ages of 12 and 29 guzzle one-half gallon of "liquid candy" every day. Supersizing a soft drink to 32 ounces is a quarter of the recommended total daily calories for the average woman.
All of that soda is taking a great toll on our health. Obesity is the most obvious effect. During the past 30 years, as our consumption of soft drinks has increased, the rate of obesity has soared.
In fact, Dr. David Ludwig, a Harvard endocrinologist, said that sweetened drinks are the only specific food that clinical research has directly linked to weight gain.
"Highly concentrated starches and sugars promote overeating, and the granddaddy of them all is sugar-sweetened beverages," Ludwig told CNN.
The sugar provides huge amounts of calories, but also creates a vicious cycle. "It's rapidly absorbed, which raises blood sugar and in effect causes the body to panic," Ludwig said. When the body releases insulin to metabolize the sugar, blood sugar drops. The body responds by releasing a hormone called ghrelin, which causes hunger and provokes us to eat even more.
Sodas can cause other health problems including:
• Diabetes. Not only does being overweight increase the odds of developing Type 2 diabetes, some researchers at Rutgers believe that high-fructose corn syrup, an ingredient in most sugar-sweetened sodas, may start a series of events in the body that leads to diabetes.
• Osteoporosis. Phosphoric acid, which give drinks their "bite," leaches calcium from the bones.
• GI problems."Sodas contain an array of chemical acids as additives, such as acetic, fumaric, gluconic, and phosphoric acids, all of them synthetically produced," Dr. Judith Valentine told the Global Healing Center. "Drinking sodas, especially on an empty stomach, can upset the fragile acid-alkaline balance of the stomach and other gastric linings, creating a continuous acid environment. This prolonged acid environment can lead to inflammation of the stomach and duodenal lining which becomes quite painful. Over the long term, it can lead to gastric lining erosion."
• Dental problems. Phosphoric acid, which causes bone loss, also causes tooth enamel to erode."Dentists are reporting complete loss of the enamel on the front teeth in teenage boys and girls who habitually drink sodas," said Valentine.
• Brain disorders. More than 92 side effects are associated with aspartame, a sugar substitute used in diet sodas. They include brain tumors, emotional disorders, and epileptic seizures.
• Pancreatic cancer. Drinking two or more soft drinks a week increases the risk of developing pancreatic cancer by two-fold compared to people who do not drink soft drinks, says a recent report in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. “The high levels of sugar in soft drinks may be increasing the level of insulin in the body, which we think contributes to pancreatic cancer cell growth,” said Mark Pereira, Ph.D., and senior author of the study.
• Reproductive health. Additives in soft drinks can interfere with the body's delicate hormone balance. And a recent Danish study found that men who drank a quart or more of cola daily had sperm counts 30 percent lower than in those men who didn't drink soft drinks.
• High blood pressure. A study found fructose — a form of sugar found in soft drinks and junk food — raises blood pressure.
• Kidney stones. The same phosphate that rots teeth and leaches calcium from the body has been proposed as a contributing factor in the formation of kidney stones. And a study published in the journal Epidemiology found that drinking two or more colas daily — regular or artificially sweetened — doubled the risk of chronic kidney disease.