Both diet soda and sweetened fruit juice may increase stroke risk

February 19, 2019

Scientists are warning us that things don’t really go better with Diet Coke—or with your morning orange juice, for that matter.

New research finds that consuming diet sodas and artificially sweetened fruit juices may increase your risk for strokeespecially if you are a mature woman, CBS News reported on February 17.

In a study that tracked nearly 82,000 postmenopausal women, those who drank two or more diet drinks per day saw their overall stroke risk rise by 23%, compared with those who consumed diet drinks less than once a week.

Blocked arteries are often the main culprit, the network news outlet notes, with heavy diet drink consumption linked to a 31% greater risk for an ischemic stroke, which is triggered by a clot, the study findings showed.

Study author Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani—a nutrition scientist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City—acknowledged in an interview with CBS News that an “association does not imply causation.” But she stressed that the findings held up even after taking into account the nutritional value of each participant’s overall diet.

So, “we can’t assume these diet drinks are harmless, particularly when consumed at high levels,” Mossavar-Rahmani said.

“The take-home message is that these findings give us pause,” she added. “We need to do more research on why we are seeing these associations. What are the scientific mechanisms? Is there something about the artificial sweeteners, for example, that affects the bacteria in the gut and lead to health issues?”

Indeed, the American Heart Association (AHA) recently underscored the lack of sufficient research into the cardiovascular impact of diet sodas, CBS News points out. Until more work is done, the AHA says the jury remains out on whether artificially sweetened beverages do or do not hasten heart disease.

Women in the latest study were between 50 and 79 when they first enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative trial between 1993 and 1998.

Investigators tracked the general health of all the participants for an average of nearly 12 years. During that time—at the three-year mark—all the women were asked to indicate how frequently they consumed diet sodas and diet fruit drinks over a three-month period.

The researchers did not take note of which brands of artificially sweetened drinks the women drank, and so did not know which artificial sweeteners were being consumed, CBS News reports.

That said, nearly two-thirds of the women consumed diet sodas or drinks very infrequently, meaning less than once a week or never. Only about 5% were found to be “heavy” consumers of artificially sweetened drinks.

After taking into consideration a variety of stroke risk factors — including blood pressure status, smoking history and age — the study team concluded that heavy consumption of diet drinks did appear to be tied to cardiovascular risks in a number of ways.

For example, those women who drank two or more diet beverages a day saw their overall risk for developing heart disease increase by 29%. They also were 16% more likely to die prematurely from any cause.

Certain groups fared even worse: Among obese women and black women with no history of heart disease or diabetes, a diet drink habit pushed clot-driven stroke risk up by roughly twofold and fourfold, respectively, the researchers reported.

Whether or not the findings would apply to either men or younger women remains unclear, the study authors noted.

The findings were published online February 14 in the journal, Stroke.

A group representing the artificial sweetener industry offered the following response, CBS News noted:  “The contribution of reverse causality, meaning that individuals already at a greater risk of stroke and cardiovascular events chose low-calorie sweetened beverages, is very likely the cause of the associations presented by these researchers.”

Research contact: @CBSNews

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