There May Be A Benefit To Drinking Sugary Soda

Illustrated by Clay Hickson.
We've heard plenty of reasons to cut back on our sugar intake, but we'll be honest: It's rough. Now, a new study suggests those sugary drinks may have a potential benefit — one that makes them surprisingly hard to say no to.

In the small study, published online this week in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 19 women were assigned to drink three servings of either sucrose- or aspartame-sweetened beverages per day for 12 days. For a few days before and after the 12-day experiment phase, all participants had to stay in a research center for three days and eat a standardized diet. And, participants took a stress test while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine before and after the 12-day period.

The results showed that, after the 12 days, participants who'd gotten the sucrose drinks showed increased activity in the hippocampus, an area of the brain that's normally deactivated during stress. And, those who'd gotten sucrose had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva than those who'd gotten aspartame. So, the authors conclude that "consumption of beverages sweetened with sugar, but not the artificial sweetener aspartame, inhibits stress-induced cortisol secretion in humans." And, they suggest that this stress-relieving effect may be what makes it particularly difficult to kick the sugar habit.

However, the study does have its limitations. It included a very small number of participants, so we don't know how well these results would apply to the rest of the population. And, there were no self-reported measures of anxiety. So, although brain activity and cortisol levels give us an idea of the stress participants were experiencing, we don't have their first-person accounts.

And, of course, although you don't necessarily need to eliminate sugar altogether, there are plenty of reasons to not overdo it on the sweet stuff — even if it does make you feel better. The positive effects probably don't outweigh the icky ones we already know about, at least not in the long-term. So, as with most things, moderation seems to be key. And, if you're going to stray from plain ol' water, you might as well just go with what makes you happy. 

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