Being pregnant in 2010 seems more complicated than ever, with the list of food “no-nos” getting longer. A recent Danish study suggests that you should also add diet soda to your list of unacceptable indulgences. Researchers surveyed nearly 60,000 women at the midpoint of their pregnancy about their eating habits. They found that the women who drank one artificially sweetened (carbonated and non-carbonated) beverage daily were 38 percent more likely to give birth prematurely than women who didn’t drink these beverages. What’s more astounding is that drinking more than four servings of artificially sweetened beverages led to a 78 percent increased risk of preterm delivery.
The researchers didn’t adjust their results to accommodate the fact that more than 12 percent of pregnancies result in preterm birth and didn’t point fingers at any one sweetener. However, these results remained unchanged even when age, weight status, other dietary habits, and other major variables were factored in. The study also found that sugar-sweetened beverage intake was not independently associated with preterm birth when the same outside factors were taken into consideration.
Based on this study and previous animal studies, the researchers hypothesize that the results are related to the breakdown of artificial sweeteners as follows: aspartame –> methanol –> formaldehyde (yikes!) –> formic acid. Large amounts of formic acid may have a toxic effect on a woman’s uterus, and ultimately explain the link between diet drinks and preterm birth.
The FDA believes it is safe for women who consume saccharin (Sweet n’ Low), sucralose (Splenda) or acesulfame K (Sunett, Sweet One), but not aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal) prepregnancy to continue in moderation while with child. Either way, many experts agree that it’s better to take the safe route when it comes to keeping your unborn child healthy.
Try to avoid artificial sweeteners, and if you simply cannot do without the fizzy drinks, opt for smaller amounts of sugar sweetened beverages on occasion. Moderation is important, though: after all, studies have shown that all (artificially or sugar) sweetened beverages have been linked to elevated blood pressure, type-2 diabetes risk, and obese weight status, all of which can lead to more unwanted pregnancy complications.