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Mar 29, 2014

Diet Drinks Could Spell Heart Trouble for Older Women

Largest study of its kind links frequent diet drink consumption to increased risk for heart disease in older women.

Indulging in too many diet drinks may spell heart trouble for older women, according to research presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 63rd Annual Scientific Session.

This study was the largest of its kind, analyzing the diet drink intake and cardiovascular risk in more than 56,000 postmenopausal women part of the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. On average, women were about 63 years old, all of whom were free of heart disease at the start of the study. Upon enrollment, women were asked how often they consumed diet drinks, including diet soda and diet fruit drinks. Based on their answers, participants were divided into categories, ranging from never/infrequent diet soda drinkers (0-3 drinks per month) to frequent diet soda drinkers (2 or more diet drinks a day).

After following participants for roughly 9 years, researchers found that compared to women who never or rarely consume diet drinks, those who consumed two or more a day were 30 percent more likely to suffer heart attack or stroke and 50 percent more likely to die from heart disease.

Still, researchers believe that it’s too soon to tell people to change their behavior based on this study. “We only found an association, so we can’t say that diet drinks cause these problems,” said Ankur Vyas, MD, the lead investigator of the study. As Vyas explains, there may be other factors about people that explain the connection between diet drinks and increased heart risks. Plus, this study only included postmenopausal women around the age of 63, which is a specific segment of the general population.

But with diet drink consumption on the rise, the potential implications of this research could be huge. About one in five people in the U.S. consume diet drinks on a given day, according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2009-2010. If further research shows that diet drink consumption does, in fact, increase risk for heart disease, millions of Americans could be impacted by these findings.

The good news is that among the 56,000 women included in this study, only 5% were in the highest category of diet drink consumption, reporting 2 or more diet drinks a day. So as with most things in life, moderation is key until we learn more about the link between diet drinks and cardiovascular risk.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Are diet drinks bad for heart health?
  • Previous studies have linked frequent diet drink consumption to increased cardiovascular risk, but further research is needed on the topic. Until we learn more about the relationship between diet drinks and heart health, moderation is key when it comes to the consumption of diet drinks.
  • What is a heart-healthy diet?

  • A heart-healthy diet is full of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains and includes low-fat dairy, fish and nuts as part of a balanced diet. It’s important to limit intake of added sugars, salt (sodium) and bad fats (saturated and trans fats).

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