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Study: Diet soda may do more harm than good
July 10th, 2013
05:01 PM ET

Study: Diet soda may do more harm than good

Diet soda drinkers have the same health issues as those who drink regular soda, according to a new report published Wednesday.

Purdue University researchers reviewed a dozen studies published in past five years that examined the relationship between consuming diet soda and health outcomes. They then published an opinion piece on their findings in the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, saying they were “shocked” by the results.

"Honestly, I thought that diet soda would be marginally better compared to regular soda in terms of health," said Susan Swithers, the report's author and a behavioral neuroscientist and professor of psychological sciences. “But in reality it has a counterintuitive effect.”

Artificial sweeteners in diet soda fulfill a person’s craving for a sweet taste, without the calories. But that's the problem, according to researchers. Think of it like crying wolf.

The fake sugar in diet sodas teases your body by pretending to give it real food. But when your body doesn't get the things it expects to get, it becomes confused on how to respond. While the studies they reviewed only looked at diet soft drinks, the researchers suggest that this could apply to other products that contain artificial sweeteners as well.

"You've messed up the whole system, so when you consume real sugar, your body doesn't know if it should try to process it because it's been tricked by the fake sugar so many times," says Swithers.

On a physiological level, this means when diet soda drinkers consume real sugar, the body doesn’t release the hormone that regulates blood sugar and blood pressure.

Video: Are diet sodas dangerous to your health?

Diet soda drinkers also tend to pack on more pounds than those who don’t drink it, the report says.

“Research shows that sweet taste can increase appetite and the regular consumption of the high intensity sweetness of artificial sweeteners may encourage sugar cravings and dependence,” says CNN diet and fitness expert Dr. Melina Jampolis.

The artificial sweeteners also dampen the "reward center" in your brain, which may lead you to indulge in more calorie-rich, sweet-tasting food, according to the report.

The American Beverage Association says the report was "an opinion piece, not a scientific study."

"Low-calorie sweeteners are some of the most studied and reviewed ingredients in the food supply today," the association said in a statement. "They are safe and an effective tool in weight loss and weight management, according to decades of scientific research and regulatory agencies around the globe."

Diet soda's negative effects are not just linked to weight gain, however, the report says.

It found that diet soda drinkers who maintained a healthy weight range still had a significantly increased risk of the top three killers in the United States: diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

"We've gotten to a place where it is normal to drink diet soda because people have the false impression that it is healthier than indulging in a regular soda," says Swithers. "But research is now very clear that we need to also be mindful of how much fake sugar they are consuming."

There are five FDA-approved artificial sweeteners: acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One), aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), neotame, saccharin (SugarTwin, Sweet'N Low), and sucralose (Splenda).

“Saccharin was one of the first commercially-available artificially sweeteners, and it’s actually a derivative of tar,” says Swithers.

Even natural sweeteners like Stevia, which has no calories and is 250 times sweeter than regular sugar, are still processed extracts of a natural plant and may have increased health risks.

“Just because something is natural does not always mean that it is safer,” says Jampolis.

There more studies and research that need to be done. But in the meantime, experts say: Limit consumption.

“No one is saying cut it out completely,” says Swithers. “But diet soda should be a treat or indulgence just like your favorite candy, not an everyday thing.”

Sugary drinks linked to 180,000 deaths worldwide


soundoff (752 Responses)
  1. Tomw

    Not to be a saint here, but I have two teenage kids, we have NEVER BOUGHT SODA their whole lives, and they don't miss something that isn't there. They also don't prefer it when away from home. It's easy to live without this crap in bottle if you just never buy or use it. There are so many other better alternatives for beverages; like almost anything. It's stupefying how much soda of all kinds the U.S. population consumes. The marketers have done a good job with this one!

    July 11, 2013 at 17:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • southcal

      I hope you don't assume that orange juice or apple juice or Gatorade is much better than a Coke or Pepsi.

      July 11, 2013 at 18:05 | Report abuse |
    • loupy

      My parents never bought soda when I was a kid, it was only water and unsweet tea. I wasn't happy back then, but I'm grateful now, because to this day I prefer water and unsweet tea to any kind of drink. Everything tastes too sweet, and doesn't do anything for my thirst. Sugary drinks just make me more thirsty. So it's still water and unsweet tea to this day.

      July 11, 2013 at 18:23 | Report abuse |
  2. tcool17

    Not sure I believe these studies anymore. EVERY time lately, you get these absurd studies which will state the exact opposite of what has been said for years. They do it because it gets the study group in the news... otherwise they would not be in the news.

    As for diet soda, most people who drink it tend to be overweight already. They are the people who tend to gain weight easily. Which makes this study pointless.

    July 11, 2013 at 17:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DietSodaWeightGain

      > EVERY time lately, you get these absurd studies which will state the exact opposite of what has been said for years.

      Perhaps, but not in this case. Most all of the studies have pointed to a consistent correlation between diet soda and weight gain.

      Contrary to what the beverage companies say, there has not been a single study that statistically shows that diet soda helps with maintaining or loosing weight.

      If you want a healthy drink, try water.

      July 11, 2013 at 18:03 | Report abuse |
    • joe

      Consistent correlation? Since when does that matter?

      Diet soda is neither good nor bad, it never claims to be either.

      The FDA says it is the most studied chemical in their history. There are no negative side affects

      Science doesnt care about your anecdotes and correlations

      July 11, 2013 at 18:21 | Report abuse |
    • nxpunk

      I agree. Just because its diet doesn't mean that you can have a gallon of it.

      July 11, 2013 at 19:16 | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Or it could be that new evidence comes to light which then changes previously held conclusions. It's just how science works.

      July 17, 2013 at 11:22 | Report abuse |
    • Billy F

      Anything in moderation can be fine for you. Having a soda for a TREAT once in a while, is something that can be okay.

      September 22, 2013 at 19:06 | Report abuse |
  3. cpc65

    What "real sugar"? It's all high fructose corn syrup!

    July 11, 2013 at 17:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • liz

      sugar comes from sugar cane or sugar beets, HFCS comes from corn syrup..it undergoes a chemical process to become HFCS

      July 11, 2013 at 18:03 | Report abuse |
  4. Chigrboy

    Why all the hate for fat Americans?? Are all of you writing these posts skinny-healthy Americans? Anyway, I actually am pretty healthy for a middle aged American. I work out 3 times a week (crossfit), play basketball and watch WHAT I put in my body.
    Some posts on here say that the fat people eat too much and that's probably true in a lot of cases (combined with lack of exercise) but what is equally or more important is WHAT you eat. My mom eats like a bird (seriously) but is still overweight. The two factors I see are lack of exercise and diet. Sugar is your enemy.Processed foods (including artificial sweeteners) are your enemy. Wheat products aren't doing you any favors and neither is the all american favorite – the white potato. What you eat is more important in my opinion. Eat lean protein, vegies, nuts some fruits. If you're thirsty – water. Tea is also good but make your own like green tea- no pre bottled or McD's sweet teas. And don't hate so much. I'm not perfect and neither are you.

    July 11, 2013 at 17:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • On Nutrition

      You've drunk the Paleo Koolaid I see! You might be interested to know that cave people did eat grains and legumes. I'd post some articles for you, but I'm on my phone. There is a great TED talk about it that you could probably find on YouTube. The good thing about the Paleo diet is that it gets the processed junk out of the diet and encourages more vegetable consumption. But it is still just a diet fad and the consensus belief is that cave people didn't eat the Paleo diet!

      July 11, 2013 at 22:27 | Report abuse |
    • GernB

      Actually, I'm not skinny but I'm far from fat. I have consumed diet soda for my entire adult life going on 25 years now (stopped drinking sugar soda when I was 20). I am not overweight, I don't have diabetes, no heart disease... does that mean I'm proof? Not at all. It just means there's science and then there's "science". Until they come up with a real study in which identical individuals ate the identical diet, did identical exercise and drank identical amounts of the identical beverage, it's all just hoopla.

      July 12, 2013 at 14:33 | Report abuse |
  5. joe

    I drink diet soda because I like flavor on my tongue. Water is boring

    People like me eat and drink for pleasure more so than for need.

    So my opinion is: if you drink diet soda, you are trying to compromise the pleasure of drinking with the need for health. The problem is, that's not enough. You have to watch what you eat too.

    People who have health problems while drinking diet have managed to compromise on one side of their diet, but not the other. That's why we're seeing studies like this showing diet drinkers being overweight. This is a demographic that enjoys eating and drinking so much that they've bothered to acquire the taste of a rather nasty chemical.

    Aspartame has been studied exhaustively. Until I see empirical scientific research showing diet sodas are unhealthy, I will continue to consume it. As someone who is in excellent shape (and drinks several cans of diet everyday) I can assure you, if you're overweight, diet soda is NOT to blame for it

    July 11, 2013 at 17:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • miss-anthropic

      you are a dolt......obviously the diet sodas HAVE affected your brain....

      July 11, 2013 at 19:03 | Report abuse |
    • joe

      A clever rebuttal miss anthropic. I will seriously have to reevaluate my opinion on this mater

      July 11, 2013 at 19:18 | Report abuse |
    • Yes!

      Exactly! I have lost 37 lbs since January, I have only recently started drinking diet soda (3 weeks ago?). But since I have started it's given me the edge and I was able to lose a few more pounds. Diet soda is NOT a healthy choice, but for those trying to lose weight it can be an alternative when you want to indulge.

      July 16, 2013 at 08:17 | Report abuse |
    • setsunamudou

      Don't forget though, if you drink more than one can of soda a day, you're probably not drinking as much water as you should. And being dehydrated from soda PLUS not drinking as much water means you retain more weight. Since I started replacing my soda with water, and drinking more of it, I have lost weight. And I only drink diet soda. I don't work out much.

      I agree with you though that eating and drinking for pleasure means you usually slip up in another area even when you get control of one. That happens to me a lot. The hard truth of it is, you have to take care of it all if you want to be healthy. Three sodas a day is pretty bad for your bones, your kidneys (think of the caffeine!), and how much it's probably replacing your water intake (You should at least drink close to 8 glasses a day, if you're not following that exactly).

      July 17, 2013 at 12:12 | Report abuse |
  6. wuzup25

    Really Gupta/Cohen/et all? So after I drink a Diet Coke, my body will no longer release the hormone? Really? You wanna elaborate on that claim? Or stand by your journalism-lite?

    July 11, 2013 at 18:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Peter

    I think this article is specious at best. They merely surmise a conclusion from this "Purdue University study" and doesn't even give the full details of the research. Also, I think what they're saying about confusing the body with sweeteners is predicated on us not consuming any glucose at all...which is certainly not true. We consume bread, rice and other grains and foods that contain sugar (perhaps not in such big proportions as soda), so it's not like our body is entirely devoid of sugar. So the whole notion that diet soft drinks would be such a detriment to our body and its metabolism is misleading. Check out Sanjay Gupta's article on CNN (http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2010/03/18/is-aspartame-safe/)...at least the chief medical correspondent has some common sense!

    July 11, 2013 at 20:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. OldJoe

    No Fat Chicks!

    July 11, 2013 at 21:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. kaylaveg

    I need to GAIN 30 pounds and I literally drink liters of diet soda a day. I just eat a low calorie diet.

    July 12, 2013 at 00:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Chris H.

    A 2-liter a day keeps the doctor away!

    July 12, 2013 at 08:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Big E

    Next: A study that proves obesity is caused by Casual Male Big & Tall because people who shop there are more likely to be overweight than folks who shop at Macy‘s.

    July 12, 2013 at 14:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. sick of being sick

    Our health care system is a threat to our national security. It's either set up by design to fail (front line levels wouldn't see/believe that because they are usually good people trying hard), or they are missing the obvious right in front of their face and the system (we can give them the benefit of the doubt and say that it's a fluke) systematically misses them. They aren't looking for (remember, you don't find what you don't look for – old trick) or diagnosing infections well (yeast/fungus/streps) and I'm not convinced that testing is very good even if they did check. too many false negatives (the disease is present, but test misses it). Our diagnostic skills are failing us and the whole countries health suffers. We are missing too much too often and sending millions of people down a path that is known to fail and not correcting it. The way they look at things is wrong. The pathways are missing important steps in diagnosing infectious diseases...including fungus...not just bacterial. And they affect our blood sugar. I can be the farm that I have an infection if my blood sugar is high, but to get them to find it in that crap of a worthless system is just about impossible and stands in you way every step of the way (makes it look more like they know and plan it that way so they can make more money off of you and weasel every last penny out of you...or they simply miss the blatantly obvious). You will have to work VERY HARD, and go through many doctors to get the help you need, and that's wrong. Health care is a business and we are not getting the help we need. Not sure who is standing in the way, but please remove them.

    July 13, 2013 at 00:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Timmy Suckle

    I kissed my way up to VP at a health insurance company. Now I take over $600,000 of your health care dollars for NO VALUE ADDED to your health care. And that’s just me. Now think about how many other VPs, Directors, Managers, etc. are at my company alone. Now multiply that by thousands of others at hundreds of other health insurance companies. From 10 to 25% of your health care dollars go towards administration that adds NO VALUE to your health care. But my company’s PAC dollars will continue to fool you little people into thinking that a single payer system will be bad. Little people like you are so easy to fool. Little people also don’t realize that a single payer system is the ONLY system that would allow little people (as an entire country) to negotiate better health care prices. Little people don’t realize that the Medical Cartels already know that. And that is the reason why the Medical Cartels spend so much PAC money from the hospitals and doctors lobbying against a single payer system. Some little people say that a single payer system would cost you little people more. But if that were true, then wouldn’t the hospitals and doctors WANT that extra money? Yes they would. So why do the Medical Cartels lobby against a single payer system? It’s because the Medical Cartels know it would allow little people to negotiate better health care prices. And that’s what the Medical Cartels are afraid of. Period.
    But us big wigs at insurance companies, hospitals, and pharmacy companies don’t ever need to worry about health care no matter what it costs. We get our health care paid for one way or another by you little people. And we get the little people that work at our companies to contribute to our PACs. And us big wigs say it’s to protect the little peoples’ jobs. But in reality it would be in the little peoples’ best interest to NOT contribute to the PAC. Again, little people are so easily fooled. I won’t ever have to worry about losing my job with so many little people being brain washed by the Medical Cartels’ PAC money. Not only that, the Medical Cartels’ PAC money is used to elect so many republicans that will never allow a single payer system. Republicans have always fought against any meaningful health care reform. But that’s what our Medical Cartels’ PACs pay them for. Politicians can be bought so easily.
    Pretty soon the only people that will be able to afford health care is us big wigs. And that’s the way it should be. We don’t want you little people using up the resources when we need them. And once again, I thank you little people for capping my SS tax at the $113,700 level. Now I only pay 1.2% SS tax and you little people pay 6.2%. Also, thank you for extending my tax breaks. I’m using the extra money on my vacation houses.

    July 13, 2013 at 21:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Dusty Johnson

    This is why we just stick to Cool-Aid. It's a healthy alternative to artificial sweets and junk drinks.

    July 14, 2013 at 22:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. EdL

    Wait until Bloomberg gets ahold of this one! Surely he will save the country (again).

    July 16, 2013 at 11:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. ScamBreakers

    Diet soda is pretty bad (the soda part kinda gives that away, with the diet part not really a factor), but there are other diets (such as one outlined on our scambreakers.com website) that are way better, making it irrelevant if you drink soda, diet or not.

    July 28, 2013 at 19:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Elizabeth @ HerTrainingheels.com

    I completely agree I have co-workers that drink tons of diet soda, with the excuse that it has zero calories, but have they ever sat down to look at the ingredients used to make this zero calorie formula? In my experience there is much more to weight gain than just calories...An example of not necessarily weight gain but just overall health and fitness is that after avoiding certain processed food products for a week and consistently dry brushing my body for a week my cellulite diminished by almost 40%. This is without spending tons of money in creams or treatments that often leave you without any measurable results and with a big hole in your pocket. Would you dump garbage in your tank just because it will fill it up? Then why do you treat your body this way?

    July 29, 2013 at 15:25 | Report abuse | Reply
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    August 4, 2013 at 18:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. sallyedelstein

    The American Dream may have been downsized but Americans ever expanding waistlines have clearly not. Blame in no small part can go to our penchant for the super-sizing of our soft drinks. Long before Americans began drinking 13.5 billions of carbonated drinks every year, soda was something enjoyed in the confines of the local soda fountain. When soda became available for home consumption, the real Mad Men of mid century Madison Avenue began hawking soda as a family drink"so good so wholesome for everyone including the tiniest of tots." For a collection of vintage ads whose message s are as dated as the quaint imagery please visit:

    http://envisioningtheamericandream.com/2013/03/11/the-big-gulp/

    August 8, 2013 at 12:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. adesppk

    All kind of soda are bad for us.. but I don't have to worry about food all day now, I'm taking a new diet method. It's simple and fun, just check out http://easy-diet-4u.blogspot.com

    September 14, 2013 at 03:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. adesppk

    all kind of soda are bad for us, but I don't have to worry about food all day now, I'm taking a new diet method. It's simple and fun, just check out http://easy-diet-4u.blogspot.c...

    September 14, 2013 at 03:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. DW

    I could understand how it would be easy for people to jump at the chance of cutting out calories by drinking soda with artificial sweeteners. Although this seems like a great idea, there are many other factors and risks to take into account. According to Natural Standard database, aspartame has been linked to several problems such as headaches, dizziness, mood changes, and panic attacks. I believe things are good in moderation, and artificial sweeteners, just like anything else, should not be over consumed.

    October 4, 2013 at 16:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. CNN Reader

    The anti-diet soda paranoia is very alike the global warming paranoia. Bad science produced by people with an axe to grind. Which is better for a low-calorie diet, drinking a 12-oz diet soda with 0 calories or a 12-oz regular soda with 300 calories and 70 grams of sugar? No math skills required. Look, these "scientists" do not KNOW that the body is "tricked" by diet soda and responds by throwing a tantrum or something. This is a pet theory that is advertised as fact. And it's easy to see how their experiments might be flawed: people who drink diet soda tend to be people trying to lose weight, whereas people who drink regular soda are a mixed bag (slim and overweight). Which group do you think will be more overweight on average? Again, simple math.

    October 25, 2013 at 21:36 | Report abuse | Reply
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  30. Barbara

    My daughter was going blind and having seizures from drinking diet soda! Her ophthalmologist gave a speech at Grand Rounds at a local hospital and said that many of his patients started going blind from diet soda. My daughter stopped drinking diet soda and luckily recovered.
    It gives me classic migraines. And, many, many people I know have been severely sickened by diet soda.

    May 27, 2014 at 08:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. same-old-same

    And yet the same people abhorring soda are the same ones that drink real, proven, known poison to the body: alcohol.

    May 27, 2014 at 19:03 | Report abuse | Reply
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  34. jake

    IS DIET BAD FOR KIDS??????

    July 20, 2014 at 13:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Daemon Rene

    When it come's to soda guys, it's more opinionative more than anything else in this day and age. Yes, they can both be bad for you, regular or diet. Regular soda has high amounts of sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Diet soda has artificial sweeteners that can confuse your body as to how to process them. And they can both cause the same problems, such as diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and so forth,. It doesn't matter which you drink more or less of, especially when you consume them in surplus. Anything can be bad for you if you consume to much of it. Hell, you can even OD on water. It doesn't matter what it is. Just keep your intake low and maintain a healthy diet all around. You don't have to be an olympic athlete or anything, just keep things level.
    Moderation is key.
    As long as you can limit the amount you consume to a healthy degree, it almost doesn't matter what it is.

    September 11, 2014 at 11:35 | Report abuse | Reply
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  41. Independent

    Wow a lot of misinformation on this thread. Not all overweight folks are over-eaters. Plain and simple.

    July 10, 2013 at 18:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. John

    Yeah, Independent, you keep telling yourself that when it's been long verified that 98.99% of overweight people are overweight because they eat too much. Oh, wait, let me guess, you have a "glandular disorder" or a "slow metabolism" or... whatever. You eat too much. Period.

    July 10, 2013 at 18:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Margaret

    I know some extremely overweight people who are on steroids or other medications that cause them to gain weight. Often you will notice overweight people with large amounts of fat in odd places, this is not from overindulging in too much cake. I know people who live on salads, exercise regularly and can't lose all the weight they want and others who eat ice cream and snacks and don't gain any. So try not to judge.

    Yes we do have a problem in this country, and every time somebody tries to come up with an idea of moving more, and eating less junk food, feeding the kids healthier food somebody jumps on them for trying to tell parents how to raise their kids. Sugar is only part of the problem we use way too much salt too.

    July 10, 2013 at 18:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Kensie

    I have a friend that developed a thyroid issue which makes it virtually impossible for her to lose weight. She works out, she watches her diet... it doesn't do much of anything for her. And HOW did she develop this issue? She spent years as an anorexic trying to fit into the box of what others labeled as "beautiful". People need to slow their hate and start sharing the love... maybe then we can quell some of these body issues, unhelpful fad diets, and excessive over-eating habits that plague our society today.

    July 10, 2013 at 18:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Billy P-Funk

    Yeah, the whole gland/metabolism excuse is just the modern way of saying, "I'm not fat, I'm big-boned!" Yes, some people do have these problems, but most people are just fat, lazy gluttons. It is what it is.

    July 10, 2013 at 18:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Jonathon

    Come on man.. even if your 98.99% figure is correct, that still means 1% of people are overweight without eating too much. And I would wager it's probably lower than that, though you didn't cite any kind of relevant study so who knows. Either way, 1 in 100 isn't so small that it isn't likely that you aren't going to run into someone on the internet with a condition like that, so don't be so rude. I once dated a girl that ate tons, wasn't bulimic, and couldn't for the life of her put on any weight. (she was 5-10 and weighed 100 pounds soaking wet) It was so bad that she would stuff herself full to the point of stomach aches just to try to put on weight. It was rough on her emotionally. Some people are just born with freaky metabolisms, etc. Get off your high horse man.

    July 10, 2013 at 19:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Doodlebug

    Actually I did gain weight mainly because of cola but.... not cola alone because the lack of excercise assisted coloas in that weight gain – as well as my eating less and less and actually living on colas.... and I can honestly say I drank little if any water.

    Colas are not bad – most things are not bad, it only only is bad if you are unable to keep control of your consumption. I finally have – and just like cake and ice cream and sweets – cola is a very nice ... treat. And treats are better appreciated if they are not ... continual. :)

    July 10, 2013 at 19:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. John

    Provide a link so I can verify the accuracy of that percentage you provided. I won't hold my breath as, there's 99% chance that you are incorrect.

    July 10, 2013 at 21:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Dee

    He said "not all." Unless you are asserting what you say is true for 100% of people, you actually agree with him then.

    July 11, 2013 at 01:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. richard hetrick

    sometimes I think I don't eat to much just no excerizing

    July 11, 2013 at 06:18 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.