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Study: Diet Sodas May Raise Risk of Preterm Delivery

Researchers See Possible Risks in Drinking Diet Soft Drinks During Pregnancy
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 20, 2010 -- Pregnant women who drink artificially sweetened carbonated and noncarbonated soft drinks may be at increased risk for preterm delivery, a study shows.

But a spokeswoman for a beverage trade group says the study doesn't demonstrate cause and effect and unnecessarily alarms pregnant women. And the researchers themselves say more study is needed before firm conclusions can be reached.

The study is published in the September issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

"We observed a positive association between the intake of artificially sweetened soft drinks and the risk of preterm delivery, [but] no association was observed for sugar-sweetened soft drinks," conclude study researchers, who were led by Thorhallur I. Halldorsson of the Centre for Fetal Programming at Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Halldorsson says in an email to WebMD: “We see some indications suggesting that high intake of artificially sweetened soft drinks may be non-optimal for pregnant women but further research is needed to establish if that is truly the case. These soft drinks have been on the marked for around 30 years and one observational study is not enough to justify strong statements. We simply need more studies to confirm or reject our findings. It is, however, reasonable to encourage pregnant women to eat healthy and consume non-nutritive foods and beverages in moderation."

Maureen Storey, PhD, senior vice president of science policy for the American Beverage Association, a trade group in Washington, D.C, worries that the study is sending the wrong message. "This study raises unnecessary concern among pregnant women, the authors themselves acknowledge that their findings cannot demonstrate cause and effect," she says in a written statement. "In fact, they note that the alleged association between diet beverages and premature delivery was "primarily driven by medically induced delivery" and further research is needed."

Importantly, she adds, women who are pregnant "should seek out, consult with and heed the advice of their health care provider."

Causes of Preterm Delivery

Abdulla Al-Khan, MD, the director and chief of maternal and fetal medicine and surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, is not in the habit of encouraging pregnant women to drink diet drinks. That said, he is also unsure that these beverages have a role in causing preterm labor or preterm delivery.

Exactly what causes preterm delivery is not fully understood, he says. "Genetics, uterine structure, fetal development, and infections all may play a role, so it is hard to say that diet drinks increase risk when we don't know 100% what is causing preterm delivery in the first place."

"You should limit your diet soda consumption as much as possible during pregnancy and go to natural products like fresh fruit or vegetable juice," he says. "Have no more than one can of diet soda every other day or every third day. Avoiding artificial sweetened drinks in pregnancy is sound advice, but it may not affect your risk of preterm labor and delivery."

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