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STUDY: Diet sodas might lead to stroke and increase dementia risk

Food is responsible for a large part of the added sugar in our diet, so experts suggest cutting back on sugary beverages to reduce the daily intake.

According to a research published in the journal Circulation, consumption of sugary drinks could lead to approximately 184,000 adult deaths each year worldwide. Artificially sweetened beverages might be associated with health risks for your body and your brain, as a new study observes. Drinks that contain artificial sweeteners, like diet sodas, might increase the risk of stroke and dementia. No connection was found between other sugary beverages, like sugar-sweetened sodas and those health risks. The scientists were not able to determine a cause-and-effect relationship, so the study is based on a simple association, as CNN reports.

“We have little data on the health effects of diet drinks and this is problematic because diet drinks are popular amongst the general population,” said Matthew Pase, a senior research fellow in the department of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine and lead author of the new study. “More research is needed to study the health effects of diet drinks so that consumers can make informed choices concerning their health.”


The study encompasses data on 2,888 adults older than 45 and 1,484 adults older than 60 from the town of Framingham, Massachusetts. The data was given by Framingham Heart Study, a project of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and Boston University. In the group with adults older than 45, the researchers measured for stroke, while in the group with adults older than 45, they measured for dementia.

“The sample sizes are different because we studied people of different ages,” Pase said. “Dementia is rare in people under the age of 60 and so we focused only on those aged over 60 years for dementia. Similarly, stroke is rare in people aged under 45 and so we focused on people older than age 45 for stroke.”

The researchers also collected data on how many sugary beverages and artificially sweetened soft drinks each person in the two different age groups drank between 1991 and 2001. They compared that information with how many people suffered stroke or dementia over the next 10 years. Compared to those who never drank artificially sweetened soft drinks, those who drank one a day were three times as likely to have an ischemic stroke, caused by blocked blood vessels.

People who drank one a day were three times as likely to be diagnosed with dementia. The ones who drank one to six artificially sweetened drinks a week were 2.6 times as likely to go through an ischemic stroke, but no more likely to develop dementia.

“So, it was not surprising to see that diet soda intake was associated with stroke and dementia. I was surprised that sugary beverage intake was not associated with either the risks of stroke or dementia because sugary beverages are known to be unhealthy,” Pase said.

Responding to the findings of the study, Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for the American Beverage Association, released a statement from the group explaining low-calorie sweeteners used in beverages have been proven safe for consumption by worldwide government safety authorities.

“The FDA, World Health Organization, European Food Safety Authority and others have extensively reviewed low-calorie sweeteners and have all reached the same conclusion — they are safe for consumption,” the statement said.


“While we respect the mission of these organisations 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. And according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), many risk factors can increase an individual’s likelihood of developing stroke and dementia including age, hypertension, diabetes and genetics. NIH does not mention zero calorie sweeteners as a risk factor,” the statement said. “America’s beverage companies support and encourage balanced lifestyles by providing people with a range of beverage choices — with and without calories and sugar — so they can choose the beverage that is right for them.”

There have been previous studies that managed to show an association between the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and adverse health effects, like diabetes, obesity, heart disease and stroke. Heather Snyder, senior director of medical and scientific operations at the Alzheimer’s Association, thinks the study is “a piece of a larger puzzle”.

Snyder explained: “It’s actually really more of your overall diet and overall lifestyle that is linked to cardiovascular disease and diabetes risk, and we do know that heart disease and diabetes are linked to an increased risk of dementia.”

Daisy Wilder