Diet Soda Associated with Increased Risk for Diabetic Retinopathy, Study

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By : Suvarna Sheth

New findings show that drinking diet soda may increase the risk for proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR), a severe type of diabetic eye disease, according to new research from Singapore and Australia.

The study is the first to analyze the link between drinking diet soda and eye-health complications of diabetes.

Researchers found that having more than four cans, or 1.5 liters, of diet soft drinks per week, was associated with a twice an increased risk of having proliferative diabetic retinopathy.

Strikingly, the study did not find a correlation between consuming regular soda and increased risk for diabetic retinopathy.

How was the Study Conducted?

The study included 609 adults with type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, or unknown diabetes type at the Center for Eye Research Australia (CERA), which is located at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, between 2009 and 2010.

The average age of the participants was 64 years old. Participants came from the Diabetes Management Project, a cross-sectional study of English-speaking adults with diabetes in Melbourne, Australia.

Study participants underwent objective measurement of diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema with standardized techniques to determine how soft drinks may affect microvascular complications of diabetes.

Participants self-reported soft drink consumption on a 145-question food frequency questionnaire.

Of the total sample, 46.8% drank regular soft drinks, and 31.2% drank diet soft drinks.

Almost a quarter of those involved in the study had proliferative diabetic retinopathy.

Compared with those who did not consume, high levels of diet soft drink consumption (more than four 375-mL cans/bottles per week) were independently linked to approximately 2.5 times increased odds of having proliferative diabetic retinopathy.

“These findings support the growing body of evidence suggesting that regular and frequent consumption of artificially sweetened beverages may have detrimental vascular outcomes,” the authors conclude.

They say their findings indicate that a dietary pattern whereby low caloric soda is consumed on most days of the week may be associated with PDR in patients with diabetes.

To the best of their knowledge, the authors indicate no prior studies have explored the link between soft drink consumption and DR or any other microvascular complications of diabetes, making it difficult to directly compare their findings.

In conclusion, the authors say their findings suggest that high consumption of diet soft drink is “independently associated with an increased risk of PDR in patients with diabetes.”

They say their study adds to the growing body of evidence reporting on the harmful effect of artificially sweetened beverages on a range of health outcomes.

However, they acknowledge the limitations of their study and say more studies are needed to determine whether diet soft drinks are indeed unhealthy substitutes for regular soft drinks in patients with diabetes and to inform clinical management guidelines for diabetic retinopathy.

The research is published in the journal, Clinical and Experimental Opthalmology.


1. Diet soft drink is associated with increased odds of proliferative diabetic retinopathy. Eva K Fenwick Ph.D., Alfred TL Gan MSc, Ryan EK Man Ph.D., et. al. Clinical and Experimental Opthalmology. Retrieved: