For people who love drinking diet sodas, recent research studies have found that diet drinks can increase the risk of stroke and dementia. Although diet drinks have been previously advertised as a much more healthier, low-calorie alternative than regular carbonated drinks, a closer look at the results of these recent research studies ultimately suggests otherwise.
One research study, consisting of 2,888 participants, ages 45 and older, in the Framingham Heart Study, asked for diet entries to be filled out up to three times within a seven-year period. According to the research study, participants who said they drank one diet soda a day were roughly twice as likely to have a stroke within the next decade than individuals who didn’t drink diet soda. Drinking regular, sugar-sweetened carbonated drinks did not seem to increase the risk of stroke.
However, these types of research studies have only been able to prove an association between diet drinks, stroke and dementia. “Also, only 97 people (about 3 percent) had strokes during the follow-up, which means that only two or even three of those strokes may be associated to drinking diet soda,” stated Dr. Kathryn Rexrode, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital which co-authored a research study on soda intake and stroke risk.
Risk of Stroke Associated with Diet Drinks
The research study found a slightly increased risk of stroke in people who drank more than one soda per day, whether or not it contained any type of artificial sweetener. Although the research study didn’t particularly show a considerable increase in stroke risk, that doesn’t necessarily suggest that they’re a better option than diet sodas. Research studies have shown that drinking carbonated drinks may lead to weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke, ” she stated.
As a matter of fact, researchers believe that one possible explanation as to why regular, sugar-sweetened carbonated drinks weren’t associated with stroke in the recent research study is a phenomenon known as the survival bias. In this instance, it would mean that individuals who drink a lot of carbonated drinks may have died from health issues such as heart disease.
Conversely, diet drinks may be associated with an increased risk of stroke due to a variety of health issues known as reverse causation. In an attempt to be healthier, individuals who are overweight or have diabetes may be more inclined to select diet drinks over regular drinks. Their increased risk of stroke may come from their health issues rather than their drink option. “We may ultimately only be measuring the residual effect of weight gain, obesity, and diabetes,” says Dr. Rexrode.
Artificial Sweeteners and Stroke
Although researchers need further evidence to determine why artificial sweeteners may increase stroke risk, there are other reasons as to why these should be avoided. Research studies show that artificial sweeteners can make individuals crave sugary, high-calorie meals, therefore, decreasing the artificial sweetener’s purpose of cutting your total calorie consumption.
Moreover, many researchers believe that people who use these artificial sweeteners, which can be many times sweeter than sugar, can come to find naturally sweet foods, such as fruits, to be less appealing and less-sweet foods, such as vegetables, to be entirely unpalatable. Furthermore, individuals may be missing out on the many nutrients found in fresh, natural foods.
“I encourage my patients to stop drinking soda and other sugar-sweetened carbonated drinks regularly to prevent empty calories,” she says. “However, if someone says that they can’t do without soda in the morning to wake up, I will encourage them to switch to diet soda.” Water is a much better choice, however. “There are plenty of ways to make it more attractive, both visually and taste-wise.” She adds. Try flavoring sparkling or flat water or add crushed mint, cucumber, or frozen fruit.
Risk of Dementia Associated with Diet Drinks
In another research study, people who drank diet soda were associated with an increased risk of developing dementia. “The research study can’t prove a connection between drinking habits and health issues, however, it does strongly suggest an association,” Stated Dr. Matthew Pase, neurology fellow at Boston University School of Medicine and contributing author.
The initial research study evaluated food questionnaires, MRI scans, and cognitive tests of approximately 4,000 people ages 30 and up. Researchers found that individuals who consumed over three diet sodas per week were more likely to have memory problems, a reduced brain volume, and a smaller hippocampus, an area of the brain used in memory and learning. In the research study, drinking a minimum of one diet soda per day was also associated with a reduced brain volume.
During a second research study, the researchers tracked two different groups of adults for ten years. According to the research study, out of almost 3,000 adults over age 45, approximately 97 adults suffered a stroke during that time and from almost 1,500 adults over age 60, approximately 81 adults developed Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia.
Past research studies have connected diet drinks to an increased risk of weight gain and stroke. Researchers believe that artificial sweeteners may ultimately affect the human body in many different ways, such as by transforming gut bacteria and tricking the brain into craving more calories. This is the first-time diet sodas have been associated with dementia. Because people with diabetes drink more diet soda, researchers believe that the health issue may partly explain the rise in dementia, although not completely. When people with diabetes were excluded from the research study, the association stayed.
As stated by the United States Department of Agriculture, Americans consumed 11 million metric tons of sugar in 2016, much of it in the form of sugary, sweetened carbonated drinks. Because it would have been difficult to measure total sugar consumption from all type of different food sources, the research study focused on sugary, sweetened carbonated drinks.
A growing number of research studies suggest that diet drinks may not be a safe alternative to sugary, sweetened drinks. Even small causal effects can have much bigger consequences on health, given the popularity of both diet and regular sodas. The research study concluded that both glucose and artificially sweetened soft drinks “may be hard on the brain.”
Diet soda is basically a mixture of carbonated water, natural or artificial sweetener, colors, flavors, and other food additives. Although diet drinks generally have very few to no calories, these essentially have no significant nutritional value. Many research studies have demonstrated that drinking diet soda is associated with an increased risk of stroke and dementia. Researchers have also found that diet drinks can cause a variety of other health issues. It’s essential for to avoid drinking too much diet soda. – Dr. Alex Jimenez D.C., C.C.S.T. Insight
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Recent research studies have found that diet drinks are associated with an increased risk of stroke and dementia. Although diet drinks are advertised as a much more healthier, low-calorie alternative than regular carbonated drinks, a closer look at the results of these recent research studies ultimately suggests otherwise. The scope of our information is limited to chiropractic, musculoskeletal and nervous health issues as well as functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions. To further discuss the subject matter above, please feel free to ask Dr. Alex Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900 .
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- Corliss, Julie. “Does Drinking Diet Soda Raise the Risk of a Stroke?” Harvard Health Blog, 31 July 2017, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/drinking-diet-soda-raise-risk-stroke-2017073112109.
- MacMillan, Amanda. “A Daily Diet Soda Habit May Be Linked to Dementia.” Health.com, 21 Apr. 2017, www.health.com/alzheimers/diet-soda-linked-to-dementia-stroke.
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