New studies indicate that people who consume sugar-sweetened drinks and artificially sweetened drinks, such diet sodas, have a significantly increased risk of suffering conditions linked with brain degeneration, such as brain shrinkage, loss of memory function, stroke and dementia, including dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease.
The first of two separate studies published in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia, by a team of researchers led by Matthew Pase from the Boston University School of Medicine, found that people who consumed one or more sugary drinks daily showed greater evidence of brain shrinkage, and a significant reduction in overall brain volume as seen on MRI scans.
They also performed poorly in memory tests.
The study found that the effect of consuming sugary drinks or sugar-sweetened beverages daily was equivalent to about 3.5 years of aging-related shrinkage or reduction in brain volume. The subjects showed overall smaller brain volumes, including smaller hippocampus, a part of the brain linked with memory consolidation. They also displayed a deficit equivalent to 13 years of age-related deterioration in memory function, compared with people who did not drink sugary beverages.
“In our first study we found that those who more frequently consume sugary beverages, such as fruit juices and sodas had greater evidence of accelerated brain aging such as overall smaller brain volumes, they had poorer memory function and they also had smaller hippocampus, which is an area of the brain important for memory consolidation,” Pase said, according to NBC News.
In contrast, a separate study by the same team, published in the journal Stroke, found that people who regularly consumed artificially sweetened drinks, such a diet soda, were three times more likely to suffer from stroke and dementia. The study also found that diet soda consumers were twice as likely to suffer from the particular type of dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease.
“We found that those people who were consuming diet soda on a daily basis were three times as likely to develop both stroke and dementia within the next 10 years as compared to those who did not consume diet soda,” Pase told NBC News.
“Our study provides further evidence to link consumption of artificially sweetened beverages with the risk of stroke,” the team concluded.
“Our study is the first to report an association between daily intake of artificially-sweetened soft drink and an increased risk of both all-cause dementia and dementia because of Alzheimer’s disease.”
According to the researchers, the study provides new evidence that diet sodas are not a safe or healthier alternative to sugary drinks and that both have damaging effects on the brain.
While regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages was linked with age-related brain shrinkage and loss of memory function, regular consumption of artificially sweetened beverages was linked to an increased risk of stroke and dementia, including dementia caused by Alzheimer’s.
The studies, according to the researchers, highlights the need for people to limit consumption of drinks containing artificial sweeteners as well as sugary drinks.
“Both sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened soft drinks may be hard on the brain.”
“Both sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened soft drinks may be hard on the brain,” Dr. Ralph Sacco, from the neurology department at the University of Miami, said, according to NBC News.
“Now with the growing number of studies that suggest a relationship between artificially-sweetened beverages and vascular risk, I would say reach for a bottle of water before you reach for your artificial sweetened beverages,” Sacco added.
However, the researchers stressed that while their findings do not prove that diet sodas and sugary drinks directly caused the patterns of brain damage observed, the findings confirm long-held suspicions that people who drink sweetened sodas regularly are at greater risk of brain-related health complications.
An association between sweetened drinks and brain damage does not necessarily prove causality because other complexly interacting factors could be responsible for the observed link. The study, according to some critics, did not identify any particular mechanism to explain how drinking sweetened beverages damages the brain so it was not possible to conclude that sweetened drinks caused brain damage.
However, the researchers said they took factors such as age, sex, education, daily calorie intake, quality of diet, exercise and smoking into consideration. They also noted that although several types of artificial sweeteners, including saccharin, aspartame and neotame, are used in diet sodas, they did not ask the subject which artificial sweeteners they took.
One factor, according to critics, that could have caused a link between artificial sweeteners and stroke was the fact that many people switch from sugar-sweetened beverages to artificially sweetened beverages after they developed illnesses, such as diabetes and vascular ailments. This could explain an increase in stroke and dementia among people consuming drinks with artificial sweeteners.
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