A recent study at Harvard Medical School has linked the consumption of soda to knee arthritis. I don’t think anybody who drinks soda habitually thinks that it is a “healthy” choice but sucking down soda may have more health consequences than just a larger waistline.
When I first saw the headline, I thought “Of course! Soda (or “pop” depending on where you were raised) is full of sugar! Sugar makes you heavy and extra weight is hard on your joints!” However, the study found that the subjects with the most arthritis were no heavier than the others, so weight had nothing to do with the findings. So, what’s the deal? What’s in that little aluminum can that could cause your joints to shrivel up? Let’s dissect this seemingly odd connection by talking about chronic inflammation.
So, what is inflammation, anyway? That would be a good place to start. When you injure yourself, you experience inflammation. A patient with acute lower back pain will often experience some swelling, redness, and excess heat in the area (hence the term “a hot low back”). A twisted ankle, curling iron burn, or infection will all result in a good amount of inflammation in the area of the injury. This is a good thing because it kick starts the healing process. However, just like coffee, one can have too much of a good thing. What was meant to be a short term situations becomes chronic in nature.
Ongoing health conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure cause ongoing, low-grade inflammation. This causes the body systems in charge of immunity to stay in a constant state of activity. Neutrophils (cells involved in the inflammation response) go on the attack, releasing free radicals to kill off any foreign invaders. Unfortunately, free radicals also destroy healthy cell walls and DNA. This would be like setting out some poison to kill a pest, but using way too much for way too long and it gets into your ground water. That’s bad. The resulting abnormal immune response results in a chronic state of tissue destruction which continues until the source of the inflammation is removed (which may never happen). This unchecked destruction has been linked to conditions such as arthritis, Chrohn’s disease, obesity, and cancer, to name a few.
So, where does soda come in? Foods that are high in refined sugars (soda, bread, pasta, donuts) cause major spikes in blood sugar, which is seen as a stress, setting off the inflammatory process. Eating foods that contain caffeine can also be problematic. Double whammy! Imagine how bad those energy drinks are in this regard! (Side note: for this reason, I take my coffee/espresso with no sugar and I only drink it once daily). People who drink soda and eat sugary foods all day long are setting themselves up for chronic inflammation.
But what about “diet” sodas? They’re okay, right? It turns out they are not free of blame, either. Any added chemicals in food can also set off inflammation. Highly refined ingredients (I’m looking at YOU, high fructose corn syrup), food colorings, words with tons of syllables (like propylene glycol alginate) and ingredients labeled “natural flavors” (which are anything BUT natural) are all irritants to the digestive system. This is part of the reason you feel “kinda crappy” after a long trip where you ate a lot of processed, sugary, chemical-laden food. Hmmmm. And what makes up the majority of the foods in the Standard American Diet?
You guessed it! Processed foods. Or, as I like to call it, crap-in-a-box.
And where are cancer, Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease rates on a meteoric rise?
That’s right. The good ol’ US of A!
Maybe instead of worrying about taking more pills (and who is going to pay for them) we should all take a real close look at what we are putting in our bodies (and the bodies of our children). Now there’s some food for thought.