By Craig Weatherby
Excess sugar is inherently unhealthful.
And sadly, sugar-sweetened drinks constitute one in five of the calories consumed by the average American (see “The Calories We Quaff”).
Four years ago, a team from the Harvard School of Public Health and other academic centers came to a clear conclusion about the impact of sugar-sweetened beverages:
“The science base linking the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to the risk of chronic diseases is clear.” (Brownell KD et al. 2009).
That study on sugar-sweetened beverages was preceded and followed by several analyses that came to similar conclusions.
We covered some of these drinks’ ill effects in “Sugar, Not Fat, Affirmed as Top Heart-Attacker”, “Sugar Takes Another Heart-Health Hit”, “Sweet Sodas May Promote Alzheimer’s” and “Tax on Sweet Drinks Would Help US Health”.
Artificially sweetened, no-calorie drinks have serious downsides too … and the evidence that they help control weight is mixed at best.
As the author of a recent evidence review wrote, “A rise in the percent of the population who are obese coincides with an increase in the widespread use of non-caloric artificial sweeteners ... studies suggest that artificial sweeteners may contribute to weight gain.” (Yang Q 2010)
And artificially sweetened drinks may have unique drawbacks … see “Corn-Sweetened Sodas High in Pro-Aging Agent” and “Diet Drinks Added Fat, Aspartame Made Mice Diabetic”.
Now, the results of a population study suggest that drinking sweetened beverages – especially diet drinks – may raise the risk of depression.
But in stark contrast, drinking four cups of coffee daily was linked to a reduced risk of depression.
Naturally and artificially sweetened drinks linked to depression
The study comes from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and will be presented at the March 2013 annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in San Diego.
The study involved 263,925 people from 50 to 71 years of age. From 1995 to 1996, they were questioned about consumption of drinks such as soda, tea, fruit punch, and coffee.
About 10 years later, researchers asked the participants whether they had been diagnosed with depression since the year 2000.
The NIH team compared the participants’ reported beverage preferences with their answers to the depression-diagnosis question.
They looked at four categories of beverages, and calculated the risk of depression for habitual drinkers of each kind, compared with those who drank no beverages from that category:
People who drank more than four cans or cups per day of soda were 30 percent more likely to develop depression.
People who drank four cans of fruit punch per day were about 38 percent more likely to develop depression.
People who drank four cups of coffee per day were about 10 percent less likely to develop depression.
The risk appeared greatest for people who drank diet soda, diet fruit punches, or diet iced tea.
Why would coffee appear benign in this context, despite the sugar than many people add to their cup?
It’s probably because coffee is the average American’s main source of polyphenol compounds known to exert beneficial “nutrigenomic” effects on working genes that affect metabolism … and possibly mood as well.
Chief among coffee’s nutrigenomic agents are polyphenol compounds such as chlorogenic acid … the active weight-control ally in green coffee extract. And caffeine is proven to lift mood.
While noting that confirming research is needed, lead author Honglei Chen, M.D., Ph.D., had this to say:
“Our research suggests that cutting out or down on sweetened diet drinks or replacing them with unsweetened coffee may naturally help lower your depression risk. Sweetened beverages, coffee and tea … have important physical – and may have important mental – health consequences.” (AAN 2013)
The study was supported by Intramural Research Programs of NIH, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the National Cancer Institute.
- American Academy of Neurology (AAN). Hold the Diet Soda? Sweetened Drinks Linked to Depression, Coffee Tied to Lower Risk. January 8, 2013. Accessed at http://www.aan.com/press/index.cfm?fuseaction=release.view&release=1128
- Chen H, Guo X, Park Y, Freedman ND, Shinha R. Sweetened beverages, coffee and tea in relation to depression among older US adults. Accessed at http://www.aan.com/globals/axon/assets/10430.pdf
- Brownell KD, Farley T, Willett WC, Popkin BM, Chaloupka FJ, Thompson JW, Ludwig DS. The public health and economic benefits of taxing sugar-sweetened beverages. N Engl J Med. 2009 Oct 15;361(16):1599-605. Epub 2009 Sep 16.
- Yang Q. Gain weight by "going diet?" Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings: Neuroscience 2010. Yale J Biol Med. 2010 Jun;83(2):101-8. Review