Diet drinks can increase risk of strokes, heart attacks and dementia, study says

With typically less sugar and calories, diet drinks seem like a natural choice for some. But are they really helping? Or could they be doing more harm than good?

According to a recent study, published in the medical journal Stroke, (entitled: Artificially Sweetened Beverages and Stroke, Coronary Heart Disease, and All-Cause Mortality in the Women’s Health Initiative) diet drinks might actually increase one's risk of developing a stroke, heart attack, or dementia later in life.

The study examined 81,714 women from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, an investigation into the overall health of women aged 50 to 79 over the course of 11 years. Researchers found that drinking two or more cans a day can increase the risk of a stroke by a quarter, and heart disease by a third.

Furthermore, the risk of an early death for soda-drinkers (even those who only drink the diet variety) is 16 per cent higher than those who forgo them altogether.

Discussing her study's findings with Cardiology Today, lead author Dr Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, stated: "Many well-meaning people, especially those who are overweight or obese, drink low-calorie sweetened drinks to cut calories in their diet."

She added: "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."

However, there has been some contention on the subject of the study's findings from other experts. For instance, Tracy Parker, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, stated: "We're all too familiar with the fact that sugary drinks are not only bad for our teeth. But the excess calories can make us put on weight, increasing our risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke."

She continued: "Although this study rightly suggests that diet drinks don't do us any good, it's observational. This means we don't know why these drinks might be linked to an increased risk of heart and circulatory disease."

She added: "To definitely understand the link between diet drinks and disease risk, more research is needed. But that doesn't mean you're off the hook. Put your sugary drink down and swap it for water. Your body will thank you for it."

So there you have it. Although it's not conclusive, it does seem that drinking soda in general, even the diet kind, is still bad for you. Sorry!