The Shocking Way Soda Affects Teen Brains

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Flip to the drink menu at any standard restaurant and you'll find that the options for teens are limited to sodas, iced teas, or juices. This probably doesn't seem like a problem to most kids. All of the added sugar makes these beverages taste great, but there may also be another reason that teens can’t stop sipping them. A new study shows that sugary drinks can actually suppress stress.

Researchers found that consuming sugary beverages reduced the brain's responses to stress and increased activity in the hippocampus — a part of the brain that's involved in memory and sensitive to stress. However, diet beverages sweetened with the artificial sweetener aspartame did not have the same effect on the brain. 

One of study’s authors, Kevin D. Laugero, explains further:

This is the first evidence that high sugar – but not aspartame – consumption may relieve stress in humans. The concern is psychological or emotional stress could trigger the habitual overconsumption of sugar and amplify sugar's detrimental health effects, including obesity.

Soda may help to reduce stress, but the health conditions that come with the high sugar content just aren’t worth it. While it may be tempting for teens to drink a fizzy glass of soda to feel calmer, suppressing stress in this way isn't good for their mental health.

Bad feelings, such as stress or anxiety, can be clues that something in their lives needs attention. In fact, studies show that consistently trying to suppress negative emotions actually causes these emotions to become stronger. Suppressing emotional stress too often can also lead to physical stress on the body, such as high blood pressure, stiff joints, and heart disease. 

As a way to help teens deal with day-to-day stress that doesn't involve gulping sugary drinks, share our story “From Gah! To Ahh… How To Deal With Stress”. It’s packed with healthy strategies to help them relax. In general, practicing yoga and meditating can help ease your teen's mind even before stress hits. Plus, studies show that any kind of exercise helps protect the brain from stress-induced depression.

If kicking the soda habit proves to be tough, a study published last year shows that one of the most effective ways to get teens to quit drinking sugary beverages is to tell them how far they'd have to walk to burn off the calories in just one can.

For more on what sugar does to your teen’s body and tips to cut back, check out the story “Sugar Shocker” from our September issue.