Diet drinks: Four reasons to kick your soda habit

Diet drinks soda can tops
What words come to mind when you think of diet drinks or soda (or pop or coke depending on where you live)? Refreshing? Fizzy? Delicious? If so, you’re not alone.

Americans love their soda and it has grown increasingly popular over the last 40 years. Recent studies by The National Soft Drink Association (NSDA) found that the average person drinks around 20 ounces of carbonated beverage per day (almost 2 cans of soda pop).  From the late 70’s until now, the amount consumed has doubled for women and tripled for men. Even more alarming, males between the ages of 12 -29 on average drink a half a gallon per person per day!

But do you know that drinking soda can make your reflux worse? Here are four reasons you should kick your soda habit for good if you have GERD:

1. The carbonation puts excess pressure of the LES

Reflux occurs anytime there is excess pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Unfortunately, the carbonation in soda can cause the stomach to distend and bloat, placing extra strain on the LES. In fact, carbonated drinks distend your stomach twice as much as non-carbonated drinks. So drinking soda not only can cause episodes of reflux, it can contribute to decreasing the function of the LES and make your GERD worse over time.

2. Caffeine can relax the LES

Many carbonated drinks are also caffeinated, and caffeine can cause the LES to relax inappropriately. These relaxations can allow the contents of the stomach to, more easily flow up into the esophagus, resulting in the symptoms of reflux. In addition, caffeine reduces the ability of the esophagus itself to squeeze properly.  As a result, when reflux occurs, the esophagus is not able to push back down, or “clear” the refluxed material.  This makes each reflux episode more severe. Once again, it’s important to note that reflux is progressive, so the more it happens, the worse GERD gets.

3. Sodas, including diet drinks, are loaded with sugar and calories

There is a direct relationship between GERD and weight, partly because excess weight in the abdomen places pressure on the LES. So, for many patients with reflux disease, losing weight is a key part of managing the condition. A can of soda packs a whopping 140-165 calories – that’s a lot of calories for something with no nutritional value! You could lose one pound a month just by dropping one can of soda per day from your routine.

4. Soda is highly acidic

Research into the relationship between highly acidic foods/drinks and GERD is still ongoing, but some people believe consuming acidic foods makes reflux worse. The pH of most sodas ranges from 2.5-3.5. This is in the very acidic range. For further reference, the contents of the stomach have a pH of 1-2, and the goal of anti-reflux medications is to raise the pH of the stomach contents above 4 (less acidic) to relieve symptoms. On the surface, it seems to make sense that consuming soda would exacerbate your symptoms; however, we still have a lot to learn about this. As with any food, if soda seems to make your symptoms worse, skip it.

Breaking the habit can be tough, but it’s worth it

The bottom line is that if you have GERD, drinking soda, including diet drinks, probably isn’t the best choice. The diet and lifestyle changes necessary to combat GERD aren’t always easy and can feel like big sacrifices, but isn’t feeling better worth it?

Reviewed by: Dr. Dengler, RefluxMD Medical Director

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