Image above from BBC
A new study published in the American Heart Association’s journal, Stroke, suggests artificially sweetened beverages were linked to a higher risk of stroke and dementia.
One can or more a day was linked to a three times increase risk of stroke and dementia compared to those who avoided the low calorie beverage.
According to Dr. Matthew Pase from Boston University School of Medicine, “We can’t show cause and effect in this study as it is observational in design, but given the popularity of diet drinks we desperately need more research on this question.”
What’s interesting, however, is sugar-infused drinks were not associated with the increase risk of dementia and stroke in this one particular study.
The researchers looked at 2888 middle age to older individuals and found between 1991-2001, 97 people had a stroke, the majority of which suffered from the ischemic kind. Researchers, using the same time period, reviewed cases of 1484 people and found 81 cases of dementia, the majority of which were Alzheimer’s-related. They all had been given questionnaires asking about their dietary habits and those who drank at least one diet drink a day were three times more likely to suffer from an ischemic stroke or develop dementia.
Ischemic strokes are the most common type of stroke where blood flow is compromised from reaching parts of the brain, many times by a clot. Dementia occurs when one loses their memory or ability to perform daily tasks. One with dementia can also elicit personality changes.
Last year a study looking at 60,000 women found heart disease such as coronary artery disease, heart failure, and heart attack as well as stroke were increased by 7% in those who drank up to 4 drinks a week.
When it comes to artificial sweeteners, much of the research has focused on cancer risk. Although the definitive evidence is lacking, some studies have suggested blood cancer risk to be increased when they studied rats ingesting high doses of aspartame.
Why would diet drinks be associated with stroke and dementia? It could be the chemicals are toxic to brain tissue. It could also be a secondary effect from the caffeine in the drink as some diet drinks have caffeine that can raise blood pressure, hence increasing risk of stroke and dementia. More needs to be studied in this regard, and people should be cognizant of the food products they’re ingesting. When in doubt, a clean glass of water is always a nice substitute.
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Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, iHeart Radio and Board Certified Family Physician