Darren Jones wants to check himself into rehab for an unusual “addiction.” He says he’s so hooked on Diet Coke that he downs 18 cans a day and can’t leave home without it. Judging by his photos in The Daily Mail, all that diet soda hasn’t helped him control his weight, which was edging toward 500 pounds when the pictures were taken.
He’s not alone. Former president Bill Clinton, Victoria Beckham, Elton John and movie moguls Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Katzenberg have all admitted to a Diet Coke habit, according to the New York Times.
And then there’s Elisa Zied, a high profile registered dietician with no discernible weight problem and three books and numerous TV appearances to her credit. Last year she confessed to a Diet Coke addiction on Twitter, a deliberate strategy - she said she hoped that “putting it out there would make me accountable”.
Surveys show that people who drink these beverages rarely stop with just one. In fact, the typical consumer of diet sodas downs an average of more than 26 ounces per day, and 3 percent of diet-soda drinkers have at least four per day. But are hardcore diet soda fiends actually hooked?
If there’s anything in diet colas that could be addicting, the most likely suspect is caffeine (although many diet soda guzzlers prefer caffeine-free colas). Besides, comparisons with coffee show that cola can’t deliver the caffeine kick equal to a cup of java. An 8-ounce Diet Coke gives you a measly 47 milligrams of caffeine, compared to 133 in a cup of ordinary coffee and 320 in a Starbucks’ grande.
Another plausible explanation is habit: diet soda becomes part of daily rituals - a break from work, lunch, watching the news, you name it. And sipping a zero-calorie beverage may not seem to have downside to curb the urge to overindulge.
More persuasive, perhaps, is the notion that artificial sweeteners trigger the brain’s reward system. In a study of women who drank water sweetened with sugar or Splenda, the women couldn’t taste the difference between the two, but functional MRIs showed that the brain’s reward system responded more strongly to sugar.
Study author Martin P. Paulus, MD, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego suggests that diet soda might be addicting because “artificial sweeteners have positive reinforcing effects - meaning humans will work for it, like for other foods, alcohol and even drugs of abuse.”
Beyond the addiction issue, diet soda has been linked to increased rates of heart attack and stroke, kidney problems, preterm deliveries, and, yes, weight gain. While not yet carved in scientific stone, the emerging evidence is a bit disturbing. Here’s a rundown:
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