Could Diet Drinks Lead to Depression?

On any given day, approximately one-fifth of people -- adults and children -- in America sip on a diet drink, according to the 2009-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

They choose diet drinks over regular for a variety of reasons -- they're lower in calories, they contain caffeine, or they just like the taste. However, dangers might lurk in that can or bottle of calorie-free beverage. A 2013 study presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 65th Annual Meeting revealed a potential link between diet drinks and depression.

Could your diet soda be making you feel depressed?

Depression versus a Bad Day
First, note the difference between singing the blues and true clinical depression -- a can of diet cola is likely not the cause of your bad day in the office. Everyone has a moody day or two, but major clinical depression is signaled when a person feels the symptoms every day for at least two weeks.

Symptoms include extreme fatigue or loss of energy, a sense of worthlessness or guilt, impaired concentration, excessive sleeping, lack of interest in activities, or recurring thoughts of death or suicide.

The Study
The link between this medical condition and the consumption of diet drinks is what researchers at the National Institutes of Health Research in North Carolina set out to determine. The extensive study, headed up by Honglei Chen, MD, PhD, tracked the beverage consumption of more than 260,000 people for a year, between 1995 and 1996. The study didn't track just diet drink consumption, but the intake of regular soda, tea, fruit punch, and coffee, as well.

A decade after the data was collected, the researchers returned to discover which of the study participants had been diagnosed with depression since the year 2000. More than 11,000 of the study participants had since been diagnosed with clinical depression.

The researchers found that people who had consumed four cans or cups of soda per day during the initial study period were 30 percent more likely to have been diagnosed with depression, while those who drank four cans of sweetened fruit punch were 38 percent more likely to receive a diagnosis. However, the study participants who chose the diet versions of either soda or fruit punch were more likely to be diagnosed with clinical depression than those who drank regular versions.

It's not all bad news for caffeine addicts -- the study also found that study participants who consumed four cups of unsweetened coffee each day were 10 percent less likely to develop depression.

Switching to coffee could reduce your risk for depression.

Does This Prove a Link?
Despite the research, this particular study doesn't establish a definitive link between diet soda and depression. In cases such as this, it's important to make the distinction between correlation and causation -- meaning, just because diet soda and depression can be correlated does not mean that diet soda is the cause of depression. Other factors, such as a poor diet and lack of exercise, could also play a role, but they weren't taken into consideration.

Whether or not diet soda is linked to depression, it's always good to take stock of your beverage consumption and make adjustments for your health. There's one beverage that's not likely to be linked to any condition -- water. Drink up!

Kelsey Castle is a freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition, and writing about businesses such as Billfloat.

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  1. Fatima3:18 PM

    research suggests that cutting out or down on sweetened diet drinks or replacing them with unsweetened coffee may naturally help lower your depression risk,

  2. Karuna3:30 PM

    Soft drinks cause depression

  3. Anonymous3:34 PM

    Diet drinks are stupid, you are replacing sugar, a natural sweetener, with man made chemicals, who would rather drink horrible chemicals as opposed to drinking a natural food


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