Diet sodas are garnering negative attention yet again, and for good reason. A recent report from the ongoing Framingham Heart Study indicates that drinking as little as one can of sugar-free soda per day is associated with higher risks of stroke or developing dementia .
Heavily sugared drinks certainly have a bad rep for causing myriad health problems such as weight gain, liver damage, kidney stones, diabetes, and heart disease. This new study reinforces the concern that sugar-free “diet” versions may not be any healthier.
Matthew Pase, PhD, a neurologist at Boston University School of Medicine, and colleagues studied incidence of stroke and dementia in 2,888 members of the Framingham Heart Study Offspring cohort. All subjects were over 45 years of age, and participated in 9 examination cycles occurring roughly every 4 years.
The researchers looked at a wide range of variables that affect risk of stroke or dementia, including age, gender, education level, caloric intake, diet quality, physical activity, and smoking.
After adjusting for demographic and cardiometabolic variables, they found that drinking one artificially-sweetened diet soda per day for extended periods of time increased the chances of having an ischemic stroke by a factor of 2.96, and similarly raised the odds of Alzheimer’s disease by 2.89 ( Passe MP, et al. Stroke. 2017: 48: 1139-1146 ).
It is interesting that no such associations were found with sugar-sweetened beverage--not that those should be considered "healthy."
Even after excluding participants with diabetes, consumption of artificially sweetened soft drinks remained a significant predictor of all-cause dementia
It would be irresponsible to imply that artificial sweeteners actually cause stroke or dementia. For one thing, beverage consumption was quantified based on self-reported responses to food frequency questionnaires. The reliability and accuracy of patients’ recall is always questionable. Further, it is difficult to prove causation based solely on epidemiological studies like this.
That said, it is important to acknowledge the study’s warning: there is a clear correlation between artificial sweeteners and risk of dementia and stroke that’s very concerning.
This is not the only study to show such a pattern. Data from the massive Nurses Health Study & Health Professionals Follow-Up Study published in 2012 showed that greater consumption of artificially-sweetened drinks significantly raised stroke risk for both women and men ( Bernstein AM, et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95:1190–1199 ).
The Framingham authors note that the definition of “artificial sweeteners” in their study included aspartame, neotame, sucralose, saccharin, acesulfame. They acknowledge that the mechanisms by which these sweeteners raise…