Is Diet Soda a Cancer Risk?

I posted last week about a new study that shows a 60% increase in heart disease risk for people who drink a diet soda every day.

For people like me who aren’t crazy about the chemicals in diet soda, but love the taste, refreshment and absence of calories, this study isn’t enough to make me stop drinking the stuff.  First, the study doesn’t seem to give a reason why diet soda could cause an increase in the risk of heart disease.  Second, I don’t drink diet soda every day.  And third, pretty much everyone who’s written about this study since its announcement expectsthere’s something else people who drink diet soda daily are doing, that gives them a higher risk of heart disease.

So it’s tough for me to swear off diet soda because of that study.

But this week brings a new study suggesting ill effects from drinking diet (and regular) soda.  This time it’s cancer we’re worried about, and this time they give a reason: caramel coloring.

Diet Coke

I'm Still Not Sure This Is So Bad for You.

The caramel coloring used in diet and regular Coke and Pepsi is apparently made by reacting sugars with ammonia.  Two byproducts of this reaction, 2-mehtylimidazole and 4-methylimidazole, have been shown in government studies to increase the risk of cancer in lab rats.  One has made California’s list of known carcinogens.

So it could be that each diet soda you drink minutely increases your chance of cancer.

But even this news will not stop me from drinking diet sodas now and then.  The known carcinogens produced by making caramel coloring don’t appear to be powerful carcinogens.  There was a time when saccharin had to bear a label stating that it had caused cancer in laboratory rats; but the amounts required to produce that cancer were found to be so great that the label is no longer required.  We may see a similar story here.

Even if we do, I’m not crazy about ingesting chemicals of any type, let alone chemicals shown to cause cancer in rats.  But it’s less of a concern to me than the sugars found in most sweet beverages; and unless you want to spend your entire life drinking nothing but water it’s hard to find flavored beverages with fewer known health risks than diet soda.  The key may simply be moderation.  (Don’t drink one every day.)

Does the new cancer study worry you?

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9 Responses to Is Diet Soda a Cancer Risk?

  1. Are you old enough to be reminded of the “red dye #[whatever]” scare? It was HUGE! Everything seemed to have red dye # whatever in it, red dye # whatever was linked to cancer in studies with rats, etc., we must all stop ingesting red dye # whatever immediately! And then, gradually, nothing, and ho hum, I don’t recall ever once in my life since the r.d.#w. scare hearing of anyone, ever, dying from a r.d.#w.-related cancer. Did you?

    I’ve found as I get older that each new scare sounds like something similar from years past that faded to nothing. I’m old enough to remember the “coffee is bad for you” studies that hit the media. Then nothing. Now it’s “coffee is GOOD for you”. Um hum. How about butter? I clearly remember when it was impertive that we all stop eating butter post haste and substitute with margarine. And now we hear about the carcinogens in margarine and butter in moderation is good, nay BETTER for you.

    The list goes on. I think we can add this one to it.

    • Doug says:

      Hahaha, no Red Dye Number Whatever was before my time but yes it sounds like a similar story. Probably these individual chemicals are no worse than all the other chemicals we’re using to color or sweeten or preserve our food, and maybe all the hubbub is silly. At the same time, I do wonder to what extent all these additives may be contributing to the shockingly high rates of cancer in this country (something like 41% of Americans alive today will get some form of cancer in their life?), and whether instead of picking out individual chemicals and making a huge scene that ends up making a mockery of itself we would be better off figuring out ways to reduce our overall consumption of all chemicals. But cancer is apparently very much a cumulative process and so it’s so hard to tell for certain what’s causing it. I’ll throw caramel coloring on your list of bogeyman chemicals but I still wonder whether these chemicals collectively aren’t a problem for society.

      Thanks for bringing this analogous “scare” to light!
      Doug

      • It’s water for us from now on! If we can wean ourselves off that dratted diet Coke!!!

        • Doug says:

          I’m actually making a concerted effort now. Also I found an additional study on diet soda and health consequences that I’ll blog about soon. But it’s not much more exciting than the ones we’ve already been talking about.

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