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17 Things That Happen to Your Body When You Drink Soda

Drinking the occasional soda is far from harmless. Discover exactly what a glass a day does to your body.
Brown soda in a clear glass against a white background

It's no secret that soda is unhealthy, filled with empty calories. After all, the first ingredient after carbonated water is sugar! But sometimes, you're in the mood to sip on something fizzy so it can't be all that bad for you, right?

Well, one-third of Americans actually report having at least one sugar-sweetened beverage every day, according to the CDC. It's no surprise that one-third of adults are also considered to be obese.

Even if you're not a regular soda drinker, you may think the occasional splurge is harmless. But the combination of sugar, chemicals, and carbonation required to make your favorite fizzy beverage can wreak havoc on more than just your waistline.

Here's what drinking soda really does to your body.


You Could Gain 15 Pounds of Fat

dont want to step on scale to weigh herself

One of the most obvious side effects of drinking soda is the risk of weight gain, thanks to the influx of calories and sugar. A 12-ounce can of soda contains around 150 calories and up to 40 grams of sugar. Drinking one a day means ingesting more than 130,000 extra calories a year, or 15 pounds of added fat! But it's more than just the extra calories per soft drink that's packing on the pounds; soda has been found to lead to uniquely weight gain. A study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that drinks containing high-fructose corn syrup (which is in a lot of sodas) are linked to obesity. Fructose is absorbed in the body differently than other sugars, the study assesses, which affects insulin levels and metabolism, and can lead to weight gain.


Even Diet Soda Causes Weight Gain

Woman drinking diet coke
Sean Locke Photography/Shutterstock

And it's not just the full-calorie options; diet soda can also cause people to pack on the pounds, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study showed that over nine years, people who drank diet soda gained almost three times as much belly fat as those who didn't drink diet soda. Researchers have theorized that the consumption of artificial sweeteners leads to more sugar cravings, and therefore causes people to eat more calories than they normally would.


Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Increases

doctor with glucometer and insulin pen device talking to male patient at medical office in hospital

Drinking soda causes your blood sugar to spike, and it sends your pancreas into overdrive producing insulin to metabolize all that sugar. So it's no surprise a study in the American Heart Association journal Circulation found that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages, like soda, was linked to the onset of type 2 diabetes. And this correlation was independent of obesity's impact on developing type 2 diabetes. The researchers of the study recommended a decrease in sugar-sweetened beverage consumption, and we couldn't agree more.

RELATED: Learn how to harness the power of tea to lose weight.


As Does Your Risk of Pre-Diabetes

worried doctors calling

It makes sense, but it's worth noting: drinking sugar-sweetened beverages will increase your risk of diabetes as well as your risk of prediabetes. Prediabetes is a condition where your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but are not at the levels found in diabetics. When Tufts University researchers examined the dietary habits of Americans, they found that those who consumed roughly six 12-ounce cans of soda a week had a 46 percent higher risk of developing prediabetes compared to those who drank less soda as well as those who drank no soda at all over the course of 14 years. Since 25 percent of prediabetics will develop type 2 diabetes over a 5-year time period, the fact that sipping on soda increases your risk of prediabetics is just as scary as its effect on diabetes risk.


Your Body Ages Prematurely

Mature Sad Woman Looking At Her Wrinkles In Mirror

Sure, the weight gain and cancer risk from soda may age you, but drinking it affects your body on a cellular level. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco found that people who drank more sugar-sweetened beverages had shorter ends of their chromosomes, known as telomeres. When telomeres are shorter, cells can't regenerate as quickly, meaning a more rapid aging of the body. This can lead to diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer, and (unsurprisingly) a shorter lifespan—a steep price to pay for a regular soda habit.


Your Skin Breaks Out

Woman popping her pimple in bathroom

Turns out, that whole drinking-soda-gives-you-pimples theory isn't just an old wives' tale. Eating foods high in sugar with high glycemic loads can mess with insulin levels and lead to the formation of acne, according to University of Wisconsin researchers. So drinking full-calorie soda, which has some of the highest glycemic loads of any food or drink, can be a culprit for breakouts.

And diet soda isn't much better. Even though it's calorie and sugar-free, diet soda is very acidic, which means it lowers your pH levels and causes a dull, lifeless complexion. So if you're a regular diet soda drinker, you can kiss radiant skin goodbye.


Your Sperm Count Goes Down

couple in bed sad

Drinking soda regularly doesn't just give you less energy; it also slows down your swimmers. The Rochester Young Men's Study, which examined 188 healthy young men at the University of Rochester, found that participants who drank more sugar-sweetened beverages, including soda, experienced lower sperm motility.


You Could Affect Your Chances of Getting Pregnant

Woman with infertility taking a pregnancy test looking disappointed

Men's fertility isn't the only thing that can be disrupted by soda consumption. According to a 2018 study published in the journal Epidemiology, consuming just one (or more) sugar-sweetened beverage a day — by either a man or woman — is associated with a decreased chance of getting pregnant. Specifically, women who consumed at least one soda per day had 25 percent lower fecundability while men who drank the same amount showed a 33 percent lower fecundability.


Your Kidneys May Stop Functioning Well

Man suffering from back pain and kidney stones

Soda has been linked to poor kidney function according to a study out of Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan. Researchers studied 8,000 participants who all had normal kidney function at the beginning of the study, split into one group who drank no soda, one who had one a day, and another who had two a day. Not surprisingly, the group who drank two sodas a day had a much higher chance of developing proteinuria, a condition in which protein isn't properly filtered by the kidneys and a sign of chronic kidney disease. Scary stuff.


You Might Have a Heart Attack

Man having a heart attack

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in adults in America, accounting for 610,000 lives a year, according to the CDC. Although people typically associate poor heart health with bad habits like smoking and not working out, drinking soda should also be on the top of that list. Having one 12-ounce soda a day raises your risk of a heart attack by 20%, according to a study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation. The researchers found the correlation to be independent of obesity and weight gain alone, and believe soda's inflammatory properties play a role. Sugary beverages have also been linked to higher levels of triglycerides and low levels of HDL, or good cholesterol, which all lead to poor heart function.


Your Teeth Rot

Man brushing teeth

No surprise here: All of the sugar consumed by drinking soda is horrible for your pearly whites. Couple that with the acidity of carbonated beverages that destroy tooth enamel, and you have a dentist's nightmare. Soda leeches calcium from your teeth and leads to dental erosion, according to a study published in the International Journal of Dentistry. Aside from severe tooth decay, darker-colored sodas like colas can also stain the surface of your teeth. That's nothing to smile about.


You Might Get Asthma

Woman with inhaler

About 1 in 12 (or 25 million) Americans suffer from asthma, a lung condition that's usually considered a genetic disease triggered by allergens such as pollen and mold. But sugar-sweetened beverages can also lead to the onset of asthma, according to a study out of Australia. Researchers found that high levels of soft drink consumption was associated with an increased risk of asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD). So take a deep breath… and put down the soft drink.


Your Bones Become More Brittle

Xray bones

Sticks and stones may break your bones… and soda's just as bad. Even though your bones naturally become more brittle as you age, drinking soda can exacerbate this problem. Certain soft drinks make your bones weaker, according to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study found that women who drank cola and diet cola daily had lower bone density in their hips. Although the study didn't find a correlation between non-cola carbonated beverages and bone density, it did note a lower calcium-to-phosphorus ratio. So laying off the soda is important for staying strong in old age.


You Risk Brain Damage

Medical doctor pointing with pen to the brain poblem on the MRI study result

Drinking soda doesn't just affect your body; your brain is at risk, too. A study out of UCLA found that consuming high levels of fructose, such as the added sugars in soda (hello, high-fructose corn syrup!) alters hundreds of cells in the brain. The scariest part is these are genes linked to serious diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease and ADHD. Although a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acid was found to reverse the damaging effects of fructose, it's best to lay off the sugar-sweetened beverages in the first place.

Diet soda was also found to have adverse effects on the cerebellum of rats, according to a study published in African Health Sciences. Although what negatively affects rats might not necessarily have the same consequences in humans, it's an alarming enough of a correlation to make us want to ditch diet soda along with the full-calorie stuff.


Your Memory Worsens

memory exercises

Your risk of brain-related diseases isn't the only thing that increases due to soda consumption. Boston University researchers discovered that excess sugar in the diet (and especially the fructose from soda) is correlated with poorer memory, smaller brain volume, and a significantly smaller hippocampus: an area of the brain that plays a role in learning and memory. While experts have yet to determine if sugar-sweetened beverages are the cause of these changes in mental acuity or if they're due to underlying vascular disease or diabetes, it's probably safe to say that cutting back on pop isn't a bad choice.


You Might Develop Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer

Think just a couple sodas a week won't do any harm? Think again. People who drank two or more soft drinks a week had a significantly higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer compared to those who didn't drink them, a study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found. Of the 60,524 participants, those who drank juice instead of soda didn't carry the same risk of pancreatic cancer, even though juice also contains a lot of sugar. Soda was found to be uniquely dangerous for the pancreas, which is one more reason to kick your pop habit for good.


Your Risk of Obesity Increases

Woman measuring waist

It's not terribly shocking that soda is connected with weight gain, but what is a novel finding is that sugar-sweetened beverages are actually the worst of the worst when it comes to their connection with weight gain. "Sugar-sweetened beverages increase cardiometabolic risk factors compared to equal amounts of starch," said lead author Kimber Stanhope, a research nutritional biologist at the University of California, Davis, in a press release with ScienceDaily. The review, published in the journal Obesity Reviews, provides even more evidence that sometimes a calorie is not a calorie and that there are other mechanisms in place that cause additional adverse health outcomes when drinking soda compared to, say, eating a candy bar.

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