Diet soda sabotages weight loss and alters brain chemistry

Many people think that diet sodas with artificial sweeteners are healthier than regular soda. But as I explained last week, research links increased consumption of diet soda with all the same health risks associated with drinking regular soda — including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic diseases.

To compound matters, we now know that diet soda is highly addictive.

For one, most diet soda uses aspartame instead of sugar (high fructose corn syrup) to provide the sweetness. This chemical activates reward centers in the brain, but it doesn’t provide any calories (energy). So when the body doesn’t receive the promised calories, you end up craving more and more real calories.

Your body actually starts to think it’s starving and just keeps demanding more promised fuel. And your brain wants the reward, so it keeps demanding more as well. This mechanism could explain why it seems like people who drink a lot of diet soda never seem to lose weight. Their body urges them to find the missing calories.

And that’s just for starters…

Artificial sweetener sours the brain

Aspartame is composed of two amino acids and a methyl ester. These compounds affect the dopamine system, which influences positive reinforcement in the brain. (Alcohol and certain recreational drugs cause the same kinds of effects at different levels.)

Aspartame also influences the transport of tryptophan, which the body uses to make serotonin, another key neurotransmitter in the brain. It even enhances the stimulant effects of caffeine (another ingredient in most diet soda), increasing addictive behavior.

Of course, coffee naturally contains caffeine. But it also contains hundreds of other natural, beneficial, bioactive compounds.

Indeed, studies clearly show that consuming two to three cups of coffee per day confers tremendous health benefits, including reduced risk of dementia, heart disease and cancer. As I reported last month, new research links shows coffee drinkers cut their colon cancer risk in half.

Clearly, drinking diet soda does not confer the same benefits.

Tips for quitting the habit

If you drink diet soda regularly, try quitting cold turkey. But be prepared — you may experience headaches, irritability and mood disturbances.

If you find you can’t go cold turkey, try alternating one sip of water, with one sip of diet soda. Then try two sips of water for one of soda, and so forth, until your consumption drops off.

Also, stop buying diet soda at grocery stores, stop ordering it in restaurants, and start saying no when offered by friends.

For optimal hydration, I recommend you drink pure, filtered water, preferably bottled at the source. You can learn more about the health benefits of drinking fresh spring water by looking back at the July 2015 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. (Subscribers access this archived issue on my website,, by logging in with your username and password.) If you’re not yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started.