“So, the bottom line is, ‘Have more water and have less diet soda.’ And don’t switch to real soda.”
Americans trying to stay healthy have abandoned sugary drinks for diet drinks in droves over the past few decades on the theory the latter is better than the former. Now, more evidence has emerged to refute that rationale.
Indeed, a new study shows an association between diet soft drinks and both stroke and dementia, with people drinking diet soda daily being almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia as those who consumed it weekly or less.
“This included a higher risk of ischemic stroke, where blood vessels in the brain become obstructed and Alzheimer’s disease dementia, the most common form of dementia,” said Matthew Pase, a Boston University School of Medicine neurologist and the lead author of the study published in the journal Stroke.
While emphasizing the research did not show causation, only a correlation, Pase said in a video explaining the study that diet drinks “might not be a healthy alternative.”
The authors of the study noted its many limitations, as the American Heart Association noted in its accompanying commentary. Still, people should be “cautious” about their intake of diet sodas, Pase said, noting more study is needed.
And they should most definitely not retreat to sugary drinks, he said, as they have been associated not only with obesity and its consequences, such as diabetes, but with poorer memory and smaller overall brain volumes.
The study kept track of 2,888 individuals age 45 and over for the development of a stroke and 1,484 participants age 60 and older for dementia over a 10-year period. All are participants in the famous Framingham Heart Study, several thousand men and women who have had blood tests done periodically since the 1970s.
The study “found that those who reported consuming at least one artificially sweetened drink a day, compared to less than one a week, were 2.96 times as likely to have an ischemic stroke, caused by blood vessel blockage, and 2.89 times as likely to be diagnosed with dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease,” said a summary from the AHA.
A parallel study of sugary drinks did not find an association with stroke or dementia.
The artificial sweeteners consumed by those in the study included saccharin, acesulfame-K, and aspartame. Others — including sucralose, neotame and stevia — have been approved by the FDA since, the study said.
The results were adjusted for variables such as age, sex, caloric intake, diet quality, physical activity and smoking.
“So, the bottom line is, ‘Have more water and have less diet soda,’ ” Christopher Gardner, director of Nutrition Studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, said in an AHA release. “And don’t switch to real soda.”
The American Beverage Association was quick to defend diet drinks.
“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,” it said in a statement, adding: “While we respect the mission of these organizations to help prevent conditions like stroke and dementia, the authors of this study acknowledge that their conclusions do not — and cannot — prove cause and effect.”