Soda-Drinking Dangers Range from Memory Loss to Tooth Decay

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Soda is a popular drink in the United States — in 2009, the U.S. sold 9.4 billion cases of soft drinks – but their effect on human health is one that is rampantly debated. Simply put, researchers have linked drinking soda with a wide array of health conditions, including poor dental health, weight gain, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. And considering that a 2011 Yale University study found that the average American consumed 45 gallons of sweetened beverages per calendar year, it is crucial to know the true impact of drinking sugary beverages like soda.

A new study has found a troubling result surrounding the effect soda can have on teenagers’ memory. Researchers at the University of Southern California, who presented their findings at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB), discovered that drinking just one glass of soda can inhibit a person’s capacity to learn.

“It is no secret refined carbohydrates, particularly when consumed in soft drinks and other beverages, can lead to metabolic disturbances,” said lead author Dr. Scott Kanoski in a university release. “However, our findings reveal that consuming sugar-sweetened drinks is also interfering with our brain’s ability to function normally and remember critical information about our environment, at least when consumed in excess before adulthood.”

In the study, the researchers gave both adult rats and adolescent rats sweetened beverages that were meant to mimic the high-fructose corn syrup found in soft drinks. After one month of sugary beverages, the adult rats performed normally in the cognitive function tests. But the findings were different in the adolescent rats, which performed poorly on the cognitive tests, showing signs of diminished learning ability and memory.

Examination of the brains of the adolescent rats revealed that the hippocampus, a region of the brain that serves as the learning and memory center, was inflamed.

“The hippocampus is such a critical brain region for memory function,” said Kanoski, who published the study in online journal Neuropsychopharmacology, in the statement. “In many ways this region is a canary in the coal mine, as it is particularly sensitive to insult by various environmental factors, including eating foods that are high in saturated fat and processed sugar.”

The dangers of soda go beyond cognitive impacts: Previous studies have found other effects on the human body. Last year, a three-person case study published in the journal General Dentistry made headlines by claiming that diet soda can potentially have the same effect on tooth enamel as meth and crack cocaine.

“Each person experienced severe tooth erosion caused by the high acid levels present in their ‘drug’ of choice — meth, crack, or soda,” said Mohamed A. Bassiouny, lead author of the study, in a statement. “The citric acid present in both regular and diet soda is known to have a high potential for causing tooth erosion.”

Another study, presented last year at the American College of Cardiology’s 63rd Annual Scientific Session in Washington, D.C., concluded that older women consuming diet sodas were at a higher risk of suffering from heart attacks. Specifically, the 59,614 post-menopausal women tested in the study were 30 percent more likely to have cardiovascular problems and 50 percent more likely to die from a heart-related disease than women who did not consume such beverages.

“It’s too soon to tell people to change their behavior based on this study; however, based on these and other findings we have a responsibility to do more research to see what is going on and further define the relationship, if one truly exists,” said Ankur Vyas, lead researcher of the study and a fellow at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, in a press release.”This could have major public health implications.”

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