Supposedly in the service of their health, millions of Americans turn to diet soda and reject the regular brands to reduce their intake of calories and sugar. They hope to lose weight and live a longer, healthier life without sacrificing the taste they love.
But recent research indicates this plan may not be as effective as we hoped. A study published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke shows that a daily intake of diet soda puts a person at an increased risk of dementia and stroke.
Diet Soda Strikes Out
The study was composed of more than 4,000 people above the age of 45 who had received periodic health examinations between 1991 and 2001. The researchers examined the health of these individuals for the following decade and recorded 97 cases of stroke and 81 cases of dementia during that period.
These findings strongly suggest that daily drinkers of diet soda put themselves at twice the risk for these conditions in contrast to those who drink diet soda less than once a week. These findings are consistent with previous studies that condemned diet soda.
For example, Purdue University announced in 2013 that switching from regular to diet soda made no difference in a consumer’s overall weight loss. A 2007 study also showed that making the switch did nothing to reduce the risk of heart disease when compared to the rate for people who continued to drink regular soda.
Diet soda is, therefore, a misnomer because there have been no proven health benefits to drinking diet versus regular soda. The most recent study serves as another nail in the coffin.
Further Research is Needed
Researchers are sure of their findings, but they acknowledge there could be more to the story than meets the eye. “Even if someone is three times as likely to develop stroke or dementia, it is by no means a certain fate,” explained study author Dr. Matthew Pase.
“In our study, 3% of the people had a new stroke and 5% developed dementia, so we’re still talking about a small number of people developing stroke or dementia.” Researchers are considering age, education, diabetes, smoking, physical activity, sex, and other characteristics that might affect the levels of risks to see if the results change.
It may not be the diet soda that causes dementia and stroke but other physical factors. For example, someone diagnosed with a heart condition who is already at greater risk for stroke might have chosen to switch to diet soda as a direct result of his or her prognosis.
In this case, the already-existing heart risk increases the likelihood of a stroke, not the diet soda. Researchers haven’t yet ruled out this possibility.
Diet Soda an Unhealthy Option
Researchers remain fairly confident that diet soda plays a role in the correlation, however. The authors of the newest study declare that some drinks, like tea or coffee, have benefits that can aid with a heart condition, but soda of any kind offers no health benefits.
Most would also say that diet soda has no benefits over regular soda. “Although we did not find an association between stroke or dementia and the consumption of sugary drinks, this certainly does not mean they are a healthy option,” commented Dr. Matthew Pase, study author and a senior fellow at the Boston University School of Medicine.
“We recommend that people drink water on a regular basis instead of sugary or artificially sweetened beverages.”
Still Safe to Consume
So diet soda is not a healthy option, but it has yet to be classified as dangerous. It’s no more dangerous for consumption than other sugary drinks and foods that could pose health concerns.
“Low-calorie sweeteners have been proven safe by worldwide government safety authorities as well as hundreds of scientific studies and there is nothing in this research that counters this well-established fact,” the statement said. “The FDA, World Health Organization, European Food Safety Authority and others have extensively reviewed low-calorie sweeteners and have all reached the same conclusion — they are safe for consumption.”
It might not kill you to drink diet soda, but it’s still wise to be cautious when it comes to any drinks that are high in sugar or artificial sweetener. Over time, this regimen can lead to adverse health effects, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
The statement continues: “…the authors of this study acknowledge that their conclusions do not — and cannot — prove cause and effect. And according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), many risk factors can increase an individual’s likelihood of developing stroke and dementia including age, hypertension, diabetes and genetics. NIH does not mention zero calorie sweeteners as a risk factor. America’s beverage companies support and encourage balanced lifestyles by providing people with a range of beverage choices — with and without calories and sugar — so they can choose the beverage that is right for them.”
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