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Jun 28, 2017

Diet Drinks Linked to Increased Risk for Stroke and Dementia

Study confirms potential concerns about consuming two or more diet drinks a day.

Too many diet drinks may take a toll on the brain, based on a recent study that linked two or more diet drinks a day to increased risk for stroke and dementia.

Published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke, this study looked at the long-term impact of sugar and artificially sweetened beverages on the brain.

While we know that too many sugary drinks have a negative impact on heart health, studies suggest they may increase risk for stroke and dementia. A few studies have also linked artificially sweetened beverages like diet soda to increased risk for stroke. However, evidence has been conflicting and the issue remains highly debated.

To help settle the debate, researchers analyzed data from the Framingham Heart Study, which included more than 4,300 adults in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Between 1991 and 2001, participants completed questionnaires on their diet and beverage consumption. Researchers then followed participants for ten more years, tracking any cases of stroke and dementia.

Since dementia is rare in younger adults, the study included two groups of adults. One group consisted of 1,484 adults over 60 years old, who were followed for dementia. The second group included 2,888 adults 45 years or older, who were followed for stroke.

Overall, there were 97 strokes and 81 cases of dementia observed during the follow-up period. After analysis, researchers found that diet beverages were associated with increased risk of stroke and dementia, while sugary beverages were not.

Compared to adults who consumed no diet beverages, those consuming 2 or more diet drinks a day had nearly three times greater risk of stroke and dementia.

However, it’s important to consider some key limitations of the study. As authors explain, the study doesn’t show that diet beverage consumption directly causes increased risk for stroke and dementia. It also included self-reported data, which is not 100% reliable, and doesn’t rule out all potential factors that could impact this association. For example, researchers found that adults with diabetes were much more likely to consume diet beverages than those without diabetes. Therefore, it’s possible that diabetes is more to blame for high rates of stroke and dementia than diet soda.

Researchers also note that when dietary questionnaires were completed during the ‘90s, only three artificial sweeteners were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—saccharin, acesulfame-K and aspartame. Since then, newer sweeteners have entered the market, which were not assessed in this study.

Still, findings are intriguing, as experts continue to explore the long-term effects of beverage consumption on health. In the meantime, experts stand by recommendations to limit consumption of both sugary and artificially sweetened beverages to promote good health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How much water should I drink each day?
  • Consuming at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water or other fluid every day is important for good health. However, how much water you need depends on your health, how active you are and where you live. For example, if you exercise intensely or live in a hot climate, you may need to drink more water than usual.
  • How can I cut out excess sugar in my diet?

  • Many studies (including earlier NHANES reports) show that sugary soft drinks contribute more calories to the U.S. diet than any other single food or beverage. One 12-oz can of soda contains about 40 to 50 grams of sugar, depending on the type of soda. That’s equivalent to 10 to 12 teaspoons of sugar. Guzzle a 32-oz jumbo drink from a fast-food restaurant or convenience store, and you’ll take in 23 teaspoons of sugar. But sodas aren’t the only problem. Lots of hidden sugars find their way into processed foods in the form of high-fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners.

Featured Video

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked or bursts. Watch this video to learn about what symptoms to watch for.

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