Study finds association between diet drinks and risk of stroke, dementia

April 24, 2017 Mike Francis

Does drinking an artificially sweetened soda make it more likely you’ll have a stroke or develop dementia?

A new study finds “an association” between diet drinks and the risk of stroke and dementia, but it cautions that more research is needed to investigate the connection.

The long-term study compared the effects of sugar-sweetened beverages and artificially sweetened beverages. It found that the rates of stroke and dementia were three times higher among people who said they drank artificially sweetened beverages than among those who drank sugar-sweetened drinks. The artificial sweeteners included saccharin, acesulfame-K, aspartame, sucralose, neotame and stevia.

Some caveats

The findings, reached after following participants for 10 years, were published in the journal Stroke. The authors tempered the results with some cautions, however.

For example, the study didn’t conclude that diet drinks raised the risk of stroke but acknowledged instead that it’s possible people with stroke risks were more likely to drink diet beverages. The study relied on the participants’ recall of what they drank, not on rigorous reporting.

“Our study shows a need to put more research into this area given how often people drink artificially sweetened beverages,” Matthew Pase, the lead author, said in a statement published by the American Heart Association. “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. We recommend that people drink water on a regular basis instead of sugary or artificially sweetened beverages.”

Diet drinks are popular in America

A 2010 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 20 percent of the U.S. population drank diet beverages on any given day in 2009 and 2010.

That report did not examine health effects from diet drinks, but noted artificially sweetened drinks were consumed at higher rates by females and that Caucasians were more likely to drink diet drinks than black or Hispanic people.

Overall sales of carbonated soft drinks are declining as consumers seek healthier alternatives, such as flavored waters and juices, according to 2016 reports.

Thinking before drinking

Many studies have examined the health effects of sugary drinks, but authors of the latest study said they knew of no examination of a link between sugar- or artificially sweetened drinks and dementia.

Diet beverages have been under the microscope for other reasons, however.

We highlighted a study that showed drinking artificially sweetened beverages could increase the number of calories a person consumes because artificial sweeteners increase the appetite for food. A presentation to American Academy of Neurology showed that drinking sweetened beverages, especially diet drinks, is associated with a higher risk of depression. And a Spanish study highlighted the connection between sweetened drinks and the risk of heart failure.

Are you among the 20 percent of people who will drink a diet beverage today?

Why or why not? If you’ve found a satisfying alternative, tell us about it in the comments below.

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