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Study Finds Chronic Diet Soda Drinking May Lead To Strokes And Dementia

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski.

We all know that sugar-laden sodas like Coke and Pepsi aren’t exactly the best thing for your health. Turns out the diet versions of those sodas may not be either.

A new study out of the American Heart Association’s scientific journal, Stroke, found that people who drink diet soda daily are three times more likely to experience a stroke or dementia.

Over 4,000 total subjects were evaluated over ten years for their consumption of both sugary and diet beverages for development of dementia or stroke. While diet soda consumption did show an association with a higher risk of stroke and dementia, sugary beverages did not.

While the authors didn’t postulate as to why this was the case, it is possible that some of the compounds in artificial sweeteners have long-term effects on heart and brain health that toxicological studies conducted to greenlight the usage of these ingredients in beverages wouldn’t have picked up. FDA guidelines for the longest type of toxicity testing set the minimum at one year, and conducting these studies tends to be expensive. The study in Stroke was conducted over 10 years with subjects who were at least 45 years old. That leaves plenty of room for the symptoms of stroke and dementia to develop in a time frame not monitored by studies conducted in the sweeteners’ approval processes.

Of course, with these studies, it’s important to note that cause and effect cannot be established. The American Beverage Association (ABA) definitely made that clear in their statement blasting the study.

“Low-calorie sweeteners have been proven safe by worldwide government safety authorities as well as hundreds of scientific studies and there is nothing in this research that counters this well-established fact. The FDA, World Health Organization, European Food Safety Authority and others have extensively reviewed low-calorie sweeteners and have all reached the same conclusion – they are safe for consumption.

While we respect the mission of these organizations to help prevent conditions like stroke and dementia, the authors of this study acknowledge that their conclusions do not – and cannot – prove cause and effect. And according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), many risk factors can increase an individual’s likelihood of developing stroke and dementia including age, hypertension, diabetes and genetics. NIH does not mention zero calorie sweeteners as a risk factor.”

While the ABA doesn’t address the issue that the reviews from the FDA and other cited organizations aren’t as long-term as this study, it’s important to take note of this. Maybe studies like these will inspire the FDA to require studies over a more extensive time period to identify whether dementia or stroke can actually be caused by chronic diet soda consumption.

Until then, it’s perfectly fine to exercise caution and lay off the diet soda for a while.