Keith I. Block, M.D. follow us read our blog

Ask Dr. Block

Diet Sodas and Aspartame

Question: I'm drinking several Diet Cokes per day and know the aspartame can't be good for me but I'd like to hear The Block Center's take on it. Does it increase insulin secretion as does refined sugar?

Answer: Aspartame is a non-nutritive sweetener (no substantial calories) that is made from two amino acids, L-phenylalanine and L-aspartic acid, and the alcohol, methanol. The main reason for the governmental approval of non-caloric, sugar substitutes is to reduce the intake of sugar, preventing blood sugar-insulin spiking and insulin resistance associated with overconsumption of simple sugars. Since aspartame first was allowed on the market in l981, many adverse reactions have been reported to the FDA’s adverse reactions monitoring system. Some of the symptoms attributed to aspartame are: difficulty concentrating, headaches, dizziness, memory problems, slurred speech and vision difficulties.

Interestingly, a study reported in July of 2007 in Diabetes Care showed evidence to the contrary of what we would believe about non-caloric sweeteners. The researchers discovered that an aspartame-containing meal induced a rise in blood sugar and insulin levels similar to that of a meal with common table sugar. This is quite important, since glucose control can be a serious problem with cancer patients. In one recent study of over 600 cancer patients, poor tolerance to glucose--similar to what is seen in diabetes--was noted in over one-third of the patients. It is likely that getting rid of aspartame also improves glucose control in cancer patients, just as it does in many diabetic patients. In addition, when a patient is battling cancer, several studies demonstrate increased blood sugar and insulin can lead to an increased risk of recurrence, higher mortality, poorer response to treatment, and a decline in overall survival.

So if you are drinking diet soda in the hope of maintaining better insulin and blood sugar control, it is not likely to help. It is also important to consider the other negatives of pop drinking, such as the additives that are found in most soft drinks, including artificial chemicals, brominated vegetable oil, high phosphate levels, and phosphoric acid, amongst others. Additionally, studies show that the phosphorus in pop can drive bone loss leading to osteopenia, as well as to osteoporosis.