Artificially sweetened diet drinks have been linked to an increase risk of stroke and dementia, according to a new study by the American Heart Association.
People have questioned the safety of artificial sweeteners for ages. Not only have they (ironically) been associated with weight gain, they've also been linked to an increased risk for diabetes, and even cancer. Now, a new concern has been thrown into the mix. Apparently, those diet soft drinks, which contain artificial sweeteners, including aspartame and saccharine, could increase your chances of having a stroke or developing dementia, too.
The new study published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke, led by researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine studied more than 4,000 people—3,000 of which were monitored for stroke and 1,500 for dementia risks. Over a 10-year follow-up, the researchers found that people who drank one or more artificially sweetened beverages per day, including diet sodas, were almost three times more likely to have an ischemic stroke—the most common kind of stroke that happens when a clot blocks blood flow to the brain—compared to people who didn't drink diet drinks at all. These patients were also three times more likely to develop Alzheimer's.
Interestingly, the link between drinking artificially-sweetened drinks and having a stroke or developing Alzheimer's remained strong even when researchers took into consideration external factors like age, total caloric consumption, diet quality, physical activity, and smoking status.
But perhaps the most surprising discovery is the fact that researchers weren't able to find any relationship between stroke or dementia and regular sodas that were naturally sweetened. That being said, you probably shouldn't go back to drinking regular soda because it has its own disadvantages—including heightening the risk for heart disease in women.
While these findings might cause concern, researchers clarified that this study is purely observational and cannot prove that artificially sweetened beverages definitely cause dementia or stroke.
"Even if someone is three times as likely to develop stroke or dementia, it is by no means a certain fate," Matthew Pase, Ph.D., study author and a senior fellow at the Boston University School of Medicine told USA Today. "In our study, 3 percent of the people had a new stroke and 5 percent developed dementia, so we're still talking about a small number of people developing stroke or dementia."
Clearly, a lot more research still needs to be done when it comes to the effects of artificially sweetened beverages on the brain. Till then, try kicking your Diet Coke habit with these fruity and refreshing spritzers that provide a natural alternative to the not-so-healthy soft drink. We promise they won't disappoint.