If you too have ditched sugary drinks in favor of artificially sweetened beverages thinking the latter are healthier, then you’ve got another thing coming.
A new study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke has found daily diet soda consumption can make a person three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia compared to someone who drinks less than one a week.
The study found that those who consume at least one artificially sweetened drink per day were 2.96 times as likely to have an ischemic stroke, and 2.89 times as likely to develop dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease — when compared to people who drink less than one a week.
The artificial sweeteners consumed by those who regularly drank diet sodas include aspartame, saccharin and acesulfame-K. In the meantime, other sweeteners such as stevia, neotame and sucralose have been approved by the FDA.
At the same time, a parallel study of sugary drinks did not find a link between these and dementia or stroke.
Matthew Pase, lead author of the study and a Boston University School of Medicine neurologist said: “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.”
While a direct cause-and-effect relationship has not been established between drinking artificially sweetened beverages and an increased risk for stroke and dementia, Pase said that diet sodas “might not be a healthy alternative.”
The study is regarded as a mere hypothesis by its author, and was introduced with warnings. While there was admittedly a greater risk for stroke and dementia, the actual numbers were low.
“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.”
What’s more, the same study revealed that drinking sugary drinks such as fruit juice or sodas don’t increase a person’s risk for stroke and dementia. However, researchers were quick to notify that this should not be an impulse for people to go out and buy sugary drinks, because Harvard has linked these with heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, poorer memory and smaller overall brain volumes.
“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,” said Dr. Matthew Pase.
He added: “We recommend that people drink water on a regular basis instead of sugary or artificially sweetened beverages.”
The lead author of the study admitted there are some limitations to this study, saying his work cannot prove that drinking artificially-sweetened beverages are linked to strokes or dementia, but it has shown an intriguing trend that requires further exploration in other studies.
The study evaluated 2,888 individuals aged 45 or older for the development of a stroke, and 1484 participants aged 60 or older for dementia over a period of 10 years.
This study is another blow to artificially sweetened drinks, which have been the subject of other unfavorable studies. A 2007 study revealed those who drink diet sodas are facing the same increased risks of heart disease as people who drink regular soda.
The study revealed those who drink one soda per day have, in general, a higher risk of metabolic syndrome. This includes larger waistlines, high blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and increased triglycerides.
A 2013 study from Purdue University revealed diet soda doesn’t help you lose weight, as it is linked to obesity, diabetes and heart disease, just like in the case of regular, sugary drinks.