I won't lie. I like diet soda. I know… don't judge. I honestly like the taste of it. Like many, I've also heard the rumblings over the years about the health risks of diet soda too. So, I was very interested to learn about a new study that linked diet sodas containing artificial sweeteners to strokes and becoming senile. So, I went out and grabbed the study to read it. If you were curious too, keep reading and let's see what we can discover.
Diet Soda and Stroke Study
The study that is making headlines was published in a journal, appropriately named “stroke.” The title of the study is Sugar- and Artificially Sweetened Beverages and the Risks of Incident Stroke and Dementia.” Here are the basics of the study.
Researchers looked at 2,888 men and women over age 45 for the risk of stroke. They also looked at 1,484 people over age 60 for signs of dementia. In both groups, men made up about 45% of the people (so this study contained a large number of women too. That's good).
- Baseline diet soda intake was estimated using food questionnaires that were filled out between 1991 and 2001. Then, starting in 2001, the researchers followed the people for the next 10 years to see what happened.
- After 10 years, the researchers recorded 97 cases of stroke (82 of those cases were blood clot related strokes, also called ischemic
strokes). They also recorded 81 cases of dementia (63 of these cases were Alzheimers disease).
- The researchers noted that the more artificially sweetened diet sodas consumed, the greater the odds of getting a stroke or developing dementia (including Alzheimer's disease).
- More specifically, people who drank diet sodas were almost 3 times more likely to have a stroke or get dementia.
- For those who drank sodas that contained sugar, there was no association with stroke or dementia.
Problems With The Study
After reading the study, a couple of potential problems with the study occurred to me:
- The study relied on people filling out questionnaires about what they ate and drank. Food recall questionnaires can be an issue because what if people don't remember what they consumed?
- Many of the people in the study had diabetes, which can also increase stroke and dementia risk. In other words, how do we know it wasn't the diabetes that increased the risk for strokes and dementia?
What Artificial Sweeteners Were the Worst?
While there are many artificial sweeteners out there (aspartame, Splenda, etc.) this study did not say one was better or worse than another. It doesn't appear that the questionnaires the people filled out were designed to tease out what kind of artificial sweeteners people were using in their diet sodas. Likewise the study did not call out any one brand of diet soda (diet coke vs coke zero for example).
Do Diet Sodas Cause Strokes or Dementia?
It needs to be remembered that this study only showed there was an association between strokes and dementia and drinking diet soda. As mentioned above, one problem with the study is that a lot of the people had diabetes. Diabetes is well known to increase the risk of both strokes and dementia. Click on this review for more on the dangers of diabetes.
Also, people with diabetes are more likely to drink diet soda. This might further skew the results because we are studying people who are at greater risk of stroke and dementia because of their diabetes.
That said, there is some evidence that artificial sweeteners can alter gut bacteria (the gut microbiome) causing reduce insulin sensitivity in mice. There is also some evidence that diet sodas might cause kidney disease. Kidney problems might raise blood pressure and this – in theory – might increase stroke and dementia risk.
The findings of this study however do partially confirm the results of this 2012 study of 43,000 men and women, followed for 22 years, that also found more strokes with diet soda -and regular soda – use.
At the end of the day, all we can say is that it's possible there may be a link but we need better studies to prove if that link really exists. So, should you give up drinking diet soda? That is of course an individual decision. In addition to diet soda, I'm also fond of making a combo of green tea and hibiscus tea sweetened with lemon.