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You may not have thought anything about it, but soda is not only a major cause of weight gain but can also negatively impact the way that your brain works. We investigate how.

A lot has been said about the negative impact that drinking fizzy drinks and soda can have on your health. What we know for sure is that the combination of sugar, caffeine and artificial sweeteners is not good for us and we shouldn't regularly consume these beverages if we want to live healthy lives.

But we are just humans and although there are those of us who are able to cut out sugar completely and focus only on nutritious foods that keep us at an optimum level of health, for many of us it’s hard to completely avoid soda and sweets because sometimes you just need to get that refreshing taste of chugging a Coke on a hot day.

More recently, two studies have been conducted regarding the effect that drinking soda can have on our brains over a long period of time. The studies looked at whether there was any correlation between drinking fizzy drinks and an increased risk of stroke, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and the results were interesting, to say the least.

Firstly, it must be noted that these studies both had their own limitations because they were cohort studies. This means that by simply observing people and trying to find one overarching cause for such diseases is hard because there is no way you can overlook other factors that need to be taken into account as well. It is hard to draw a definite conclusion because we can’t be fully certain that soda alone had that specific negative outcome for people. Secondly, the studies were focused on older adults so with their age taken into account it would be difficult to apply to other populations. But even though there are complications that the analyses faced, their results still provide an interesting insight into what regular consumption of soda does to the human brain. Both studies were observational, intending to show a specific relationship without drawing conclusions based on cause and effect. The researchers did note, however, that when they adjusted the results for pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, the same observations were made. That suggests the correlation is more than a coincidence.

The first study was published in a journal called Stroke and after adjustments for age, sex, education (for analysis of dementia), caloric intake, diet quality, physical activity, and smoking, higher recent and higher cumulative intake of artificially sweetened soft drinks were associated with an increased risk of ischemic stroke, all-cause dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease dementia. This shows how it is important to limit intake of such drinks. We already know that soda is unhealthy for us and people who may be predisposed to such diseases and conditions should make it a priority to avoid fizzy drinks with numerous artificial sweeteners and sugar.

The second study concluded that higher intake of sugary beverages was associated cross-sectionally with markers of preclinical Alzheimer’s disease. The results showed how Relative to consuming less than one sugary beverage per day, higher intake of sugary beverages was associated with lower total brain volume and poorer performance on tests of episodic memory. Daily fruit juice intake was associated with lower total brain volume, hippocampal volume, and poorer episodic memory. Sugary beverage intake was not associated with vascular brain injury in a consistent manner across outcomes. The study was focused on the impact that the sugar has on animals, and was then applied to humans who consumed sugary beverages. As we can see, it is not only limited to soda but any drink that has a high sugar content.

Both of these studies show the implications of drinking sugary beverages on brain health, and in particular with regards to brain diseases, but another study was only focused on the brain and memory.  The Framingham Heart Study (FHS) has shown through its data that people who more frequently consume sugary beverages such as sodas and fruit juices are more likely to have poorer memory, smaller overall brain volumes and smaller hippocampal volumes–an area of the brain important for memory. 

All-in-all, there is a lot of data that suggests that drinking sugary beverages is not good for our health, or the health of our brains. We already know that genetics does play a role in terms of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia and when we couple this with the impact of the environment and our own lifestyles it becomes more important than ever to lead a healthy lifestyle that does not make us more susceptible to disease. Moderation and limitation is the only way forward when making health a priority so next time you want a sugary beverage, spare a thought for the negative impact that regular consumption of these drinks can have and go for a glass of water instead.

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