A new study suggests that consuming diet soda may increase one’s risk of stroke and dementia. But how much of this ostensibly innocuous beverage needs to be consumed so it can be considered dangerous?
In recent years, studies have warned people about the dangers of sugary drinks, specifically soda with high sugar content. For example, the Harvard School of Public Health study warned that these beverages can heighten the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, among other “chronic conditions.” Specifically, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes was pointed out as being 26 percent higher for people who drink one to two cans of sugary drinks per day, while men who drank an average of one sugary beverage per day were 20 percent more likely to have a heart attack or die from one than those who rarely consumed the drinks.
As a result of the above study and others, Americans have generally taken to drinking diet soda as an alternative to sugar-loaded soft drinks. But a new study cited by the Washington Post suggests that diet soda and the chances of having a stroke or suffering from dementia may be linked to each other; people who consume these ostensibly safer soft drinks are close to three times likelier to develop the conditions than those who only consume one can a week or less.
According to Boston University School of Medicine neurologist and study lead author Mathew Pase, the above findings specifically suggest three times the risk of ischemic stroke, or the obstruction of blood vessels in the brain, and close to three times greater chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease, as compared to people who infrequently drink diet soda.
The researchers monitored close to 2,900 people aged 45 and above for the chance of their diet soda intake leading to a stroke, and 1,484 people aged 60 and above for odds of developing dementia over the next ten years. The subjects were part of the Framingham Heart Study, and all have been receiving regular blood tests for about four decades.
The artificial sweeteners in the soft drinks consumed by the subjects included acesulfame-K, aspartame, and saccharin, with other sweeteners such as neotame, sucralose, and stevia having since been greenlit by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration since the study began.
On one hand, Pase made sure to stress that his team’s study did not prove any causality, but rather a mere correlation between the consumption of diet soda and stroke and dementia risk. But he warned that diet soda products “might not be a healthy alternative” to their sugary counterparts.
“In our study, three percent of the people had a new stroke and five percent developed dementia, so we’re still talking about a small number of people developing either stroke or dementia,” said Pase.
Pase admitted that the study did have its limitations, starting with the fact that most of the participants were Caucasian. He believes that “ethnic preferences” may influence a person’s choice of sugary or artificially-sweetened soft drinks. Additionally, there are still more people who favor sugary drinks to diet drinks when it comes to soda consumption, which could be a reason why Pase and his colleagues did not see any link with regular soda. However, the main limitation was the fact that the study was mainly observational, and therefore unable to prove any connection between consumption of diet soda and stroke and dementia risk.
Still, the authors believe that they were able to come upon an “intriguing trend” that may inspire future studies on the matter.
Do the study’s findings suggest you should lay off the diet soda lest you risk a stroke, or the possibility of dementia later in life? Lead author Pase isn’t saying, but has told people to be “cautious,” and not to resort to sugary drinks either, as they haven’t just been linked to obesity and diabetes, but also poor memory and smaller brain volume in some cases.
[Featured Image by Fabio Freitas e Silva/Shutterstock]