Diet soda has long been touted as a “healthier” alternative to regular pop, but new research may give you reason to pause before cracking open a can.
According to a study published in American Heart Association journal Stroke, women over 50 who drank more than two artificially sweetened beverages a day had an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and even premature death.
Researchers analyzed the data of nearly 82,000 postmenopausal American women aged between 50 and 79. They found that regular diet pop drinkers were 31 per cent more likely to have a clot-based stroke, and 29 per cent more likely to develop heart disease compared to women who drank the fizzy beverages less than once a week, or not at all.
What’s more, those who drank a couple of sodas a day were also 16 per cent more likely to die from any cause.
“Many well-meaning people, especially those who are overweight or obese, drink low-calorie sweetened drinks to cut calories in their diet,” Dr. Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani, the study’s lead author and associate professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said in a statement.
“Our research and other observational studies have shown that artificially sweetened beverages may not be harmless and high consumption is associated with a higher risk of stroke and heart disease.”
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The study also discovered that diet soda-drinking women without previous heart disease or diabetes were nearly two and a half times as likely to have a stroke caused by small artery blockage in the brain.
Obese women and black women without previous heart disease or diabetes were also at an increased risk for negative health consequences if they drank soda.
While the new findings highlight the relationship between diet pop and health risks, the study does not conclude that artificially sweetened drinks are the cause of heart disease or stroke. More research is needed on how artificial sweeteners, like aspartame, can affect the body, the authors write.
“We need more studies to assess the health benefits and risks of diet drinks and not assume that a high level of intake is harmless,” author Mossavar-Rahmani told Global News.
The data comes from women in the Women’s Health Initiative, a U.S. long-term study that tracked health outcomes of subjects for an average of 12 years after they enrolled between 1993 and 1998. Since the diet pop data was self-reported, Mossavar-Rahmani says researchers do not have information on the type of artificial sweeteners women were consuming.
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Previous studies on diet pop have drawn similar results.
Another American study published in Stroke in 2017 found that drinking artificially sweetened drinks daily could be tied to an increased risk of stroke or dementia. A 2015 study out of the University of Texas found that people — especially seniors — who drank soda regularly gained more weight compared to folks who didn’t drink pop.
The American Health Association suggests water as the healthiest no-calorie option.