Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Harvard Health Letters

For weight-conscious people who love the taste and bite of carbonation of soft drinks, the advent of sugar-free soda 60 years ago seemed a blessing: If there were no calories, you didn’t have to worry about weight gain–and the diseases that go along with obesity, like diabetes and heart disease.

“But there are growing doubts about whether diet sodas really help people lose weight and avoid diabetes,” says Dr. Anthony Komaroff, editor in chief of the Harvard Health Letter.

Links to chronic conditions

As sugar-free sodas have been widely consumed, we’ve also seen an epidemic of obesity and diabetes.

“That doesn’t mean the sugar-free sodas have caused obesity and diabetes. It could be that if sugar-free sodas had not been developed, we would have seen an even worse epidemic of obesity and diabetes,” says Dr. Komaroff. He points out, however, that several excellent studies have found that sugar-free sodas are at least as likely as sugary sodas to be linked to the development of metabolic syndrome — a condition that often precedes or accompanies diabetes.

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that may include high blood pressure, excess belly fat, high triglycerides, low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, or high fasting blood sugar.

Diet sodas may have other adverse effects, as well. Many artificial sweeteners may increase the brain’s desire for sugar.

“They are so sweet, compared to sugar, that they stimulate a desire for sugar more than sugar does,” says Dr. Komaroff. “In other words, that calorie-free soda may lead you to crave those cookies.” Even the soda container may pose problems. Many cans are lined with a substance called bisphenol A (BPA). Several studies have found that people with higher levels of BPA in their body are more likely to have high blood pressure and heart trouble.

The latest evidence

The most recent cautionary note is from a study published in October 2014 in the prestigious scientific journal Nature. The study examined the bacteria that live in the intestines of all humans (and other animals). Gut bacteria help break down carbohydrates in food into simple sugars. It’s these simple sugars that get into the bloodstream and that add calories and weight.

After mice were given artificial sweeteners — saccharine, sucralose, and aspartame — the bacteria in their intestines changed: there were greater numbers of the type that efficiently break down carbohydrates.

“While the artificial sweeteners themselves contained no calories, they changed the bacteria in the gut in a way that led to more calories being absorbed,” explains Dr. Komaroff. In addition, mice fed the artificial sweeteners were more likely to develop high blood sugar than mice fed sugar. Several experiments showed that this increase was due to the changes in gut bacteria caused by artificial sweeteners.

What about humans? Seven healthy human volunteers in the Nature study who did not normally consume artificial sweeteners were started on a diet that included sweeteners. Within a week, four of the seven had developed changes in their gut bacteria, and higher blood sugar.

What you should do

These studies do not prove that sugar-free sodas carry health risks. Indeed, other studies have not found such risks. But a lot of people drink sugar-free sodas, so this could be important. Until the evidence is clearer, consider alternatives to all soda.

Looking for an alternative to diet sodas, but still want something low-calorie? Consider these options:

SWEET: Add frozen fruit to ice water, such as strawberries, blueberries, or pineapple, or use the juice from a slice of orange to sweeten sparkling water.

ROBUST: Drink unsweetened coffee over ice.

FLAVORFUL: Try herbal teas over ice. They come in many flavors and varieties, such as pear or raspberry.

REFRESHING: Add a few fresh mint or peppermint leaves to ice water.

POWERFUL: Drink vegetable juice blends, such as tomato, cucumber, and celery. Watch out for sodium in prepackaged vegetable juice. Make your own using a blender or juicer.

SPICY: Add a few drops of honey to hot water, then sprinkle a dash of your favorite spice, such as cinnamon or cayenne pepper, then pour over ice. Using more spices will give you extra phytonutrients. These have been linked to reductions in cancer, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.

(C) 2015. President and fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: globochem3x1minus1 via Flickr

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was forced to defend President Donald Trump's recent attacks on MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on Tuesday, an unenviable task she nevertheless intentionally signed up for. She desperately tried to divert the attention back to Scarborough — without engaging in the president's conspiracy theorizing — but offered no credible defense of the president's conduct.

Trump has been spreading the debunked theory that Scarborough killed a staffer in 2001 while he was in Congress, even though it was determined she died of natural causes. The staffer's widower wrote a released a letter on Tuesday pleading with Twitter to take down the president's offensive tweets promoting the thoery. He said he was "angry," "frustrated," and "grieved" by the president's promotion of the harmful allegations. Trump is perverting his late wife's memory, he said, and he fears her niece and nephews will encounter these attacks.When asked about the letter, McEnany said she wasn't sure if the president had seen it. But she said their "hearts" are with the woman's family "at this time." It was a deeply ironic comment because the only particularly traumatizing thing about "this time" for the family is the president's attacks, which come nearly two decades after the woman's death.

McEnany refused to offer any explanation of Trump's comments and instead redirected reporters to a clip of Scarborough on Don Imus's radio show in 2003. In that show, Imus made a tasteless joke obliquely referring to the death, and Scarborough laughed at it briefly.

"Why is the president making these unfounded allegations?" asked ABC News' Jonathan Karl. "I mean, this is pretty nuts, isn't it? The president is accusing someone of possible murder. The family is pleading with the president to please stop unfounded conspiracy theories. Why is he doing it?""The president said this morning, this is not an original Trump thought. And it is not," she said, bringing up the Imus clip. But she made no mention of why the president is bringing up the issue 17 years later and with a much larger platform.

When pressed further on the president's conduct, she again diverted blame to Scarborough, saying his morning show unfairly criticizes the president. But again, she offered no substantive defense of Trump.

After McEnany had moved on, PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor brought it up again: "Why won't the president give this widower peace and stop tweeting about the conspiracy theory involving his wife?"

McEnany said she had already answered the question, which she hadn't, and said the onus is on Scarborough to explain the Imus clip."The widower is talking specifically about the president!" Alcindor shot back. But McEnany called on Chanel Rion, with the aggressively pro-Trump outlet OAN, who changed the subject to conspiracy theories about the origins of the Russia investigation.

"Are you not going to answer that?" Alcindor called out, still trying to get a substantive response to her question, but Rion spoke over her.

At the end of the briefing, another reporter asked whether Trump was looking for any actual law enforcement steps be taken in response to his conspiracy theory. But McEnany had nothing to add, and simply told people to listen to the Imus clip again. As she hurried out of the briefing room, a reporter asked if Trump would stop promoting the theory — but she left without answering.

Watch the exchange about Klausutis, which begins at 48:45.