What drinking diet soda does to your body and brain

Gina Echevarria and Jordan Bowman

Artificial sweeteners are one of diet soda's main ingredients. But studies have shown that the artificial sweeteners within diet sodas can cause a series of health problems. We decided to take a look at what happens to the body when you only drink diet soda. Following is a transcript of the video.

In the early 1960s, a new kind of beverage took the stage.It wasn't a new shape, or color, or flavor. No, this was diet soda. And It. Was. Awesome.

With fewer calories and less sugar, diet soda promised to be a healthier alternative to regular soda. But like most promises in life that sound too good to be true, it probably is.

Can you tell the difference between a glass of regular and diet soda? Turns out, neither can your body. And that's where the trouble starts.

Until recently, everything we ate contained some amount of calories. When we ate something sweet, for example, the brain sent signals to our pancreas. Which started producing insulin, that stored the sugar molecules in our cells for energy.

So, when we drink diet soda, the sweetness tricks our body into thinking it's real sugar. But when those energy-packed calories don't arrive, the insulin has nothing to store.

Scientists think that repeatedly tricking our body this way could explain why study after study keeps finding the same thing: that drinking diet soda is associated with metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a mix of conditions that includes: increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, and weight gain. Which can increase the risk of diabetes, 

heart disease, and stroke.

In fact, one study found that diet soda drinkers had a higher risk of stroke and dementia than regular soda drinkers. And for another 8-year-long study between 1979-1988, participants who started out at a normal weight and drank an average of 21 diet beverages a week faced DOUBLE the risk of becoming overweight or obese by the end of the study, compared to people who avoided diet beverages completely.

And while drinking diet soda with a meal may sound like a tasty, calorie-free alternative to plain water, a growing body of research is starting to find that this may be the WORST time to drink it. Because the fake calories in the diet soda could ultimately disrupt how many of the real calories we metabolize. Potentially leaving excess calories behind that we then store as fat.

Another issue could be the fact that artificial sweeteners in diet sodas can be tens to hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. So when we taste it, our brains anticipate more calories than what we give it. It's like when you go to a party expecting loads of food and you end up with a handful of veggies and vegan cheese. You're left unsatisfied and hangry. In the same way, artificial sweeteners can leave our brains wanting more, which studies have shown leads to increased appetite, and potential weight gain, in fruit flies, mice, and humans.

So if the reason you're drinking diet soda is to drop a few pounds, maybe stick to water.