More bad news for diet soda lovers: Drinking two or more of any kind of artificially sweetened drinks a day is linked to an increased risk of clot-based strokes, heart attacks and early death in women over 50, according to a new study by the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association.
The risks were highest for women with no history of heart disease or diabetes and women who were obese or African-American.
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Previous research has shown a link between diet beverages and stroke, dementia,Type 2 diabetes,obesity and metabolic syndrome which can lead to heart disease and diabetes.
“This is another confirmatory study showing a relationship between artificially sweetened beverages and vascular risks. While we cannot show causation, this is a yellow flag to pay attention to these findings,” said American Academy of Neurology President Dr. Ralph Sacco, who was not involved in the latest study.
“What is it about these diet drinks?” asked lead study author Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani, an associate professor of clinical epidemiology and population health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York. “Is it something about the sweeteners? Are they doing something to our gut health and metabolism? These are questions we need answered.”
“Women who, at the onset of our study, didn’t have any heart disease or diabetes and were obese, were twice as likely to have a clot-based or ischemic stroke,” Mossavar-Rahmani said.
There was no such stroke linkage to women who were of normal weight or overweight. Overweight is defined as having a body mass index of 25 to 30, while obesity is over 30.
“African-American women without a previous history of heart or diabetes were about four times as likely to have a clot-based stroke,” Mossavar-Rahmani said, but that stroke risk didn’t apply to white women.
“In white women, the risks were different,” she said. “They were more 1.3% as likely to have coronary heart disease.”
The study also looked at various subtypes of ischemic stroke, which doctors use to determine treatment and medication choices. They found that small-artery occlusion, a common type of stroke caused by blockage of the smallest arteries inside the brain, was nearly 2½ times more common in women who had no heart disease or diabetes but were heavy consumers of diet drinks.
This result held true regardless of race or weight.
This study, as well as other research on the connection between diet beverages and vascular disease, is observational and cannot show cause and effect. That’s a major limitation, researchers say, as it’s impossible to determine whether the association is due to a specific artificial sweetener, a type of beverage or another hidden health issue.
“Postmenopausal women tend to have higher risk for vascular disease because they are lacking the protective effects of natural hormones,” North Carolina cardiologist Dr. Kevin Campbell said, which could contribute to increased risk for heart disease and stroke.
“This association may also be contributed to by rising blood pressure and sugars that were not yet diagnosed as hypertension or diabetes but warranted weight loss,” thus leading the women in the study to take up diet beverages, said Dr. Keri Peterson, medical advisor for the Calorie Control Council, an international association representing the low- and reduced-calorie food and beverage industry.