Diet soda linked to increased stroke and heart disease risk in older women

New research out of the American Heart Association has found a link between artificially sweetened beverages like diet soda and an increased risk of stroke in post-menopausal women. Using self-reported data, this observational study compared women who consumed at least two artificially sweetened drinks per day with women who consumed few or no diet drinks, and it found that women in the first group were more likely to suffer from stroke and heart disease.

Artificial sweeteners are commonly used in diet drinks as a replacement for sugar or high-fructose corn syrup; these beverages are popular among diabetics and individuals watching their caloric intake. Many of these artificial sweeteners have proven controversial over past decades, with criticism ranging from conspiracy theories to legit studies highlighting potential health issues.

Daily drinks linked to health problems

The AHA found an association between stroke, heart disease, and artificial sweetener consumption in women. When compared with women who consumed either no diet drinks or less than one artificially sweetened beverage per week, women who consumed at least two of these beverages were found to be 29-percent more likely to develop heart disease. This included cases of both non-fatal and fatal heart attacks.

In addition, these women were 31-percent more likely to experience an ischemic stroke (which is caused by a clot), and 23-percent more likely to experience a common type of stroke. Overall, the study found this group of women was 16-percent more likely to die from any cause.

Some women face increased risk

Some groups of women were found to have higher risks than others when consuming at least two artificially sweetened beverages per day. This included African-American women who didn't have a history of diabetes or heart disease — they were 3.93 times more likely to experience an ischemic stroke.

As well, obese women who didn't previously have diabetes or heart disease were 2.03 time more likely to experience an ischemic stroke when compared to other women who didn't have previous cases of diabetes or heart disease. That latter group was 2.44 times more likely to experience a stroke caused by a blockage in one of the brain's tiny arteries.

Should you stop drinking diet soda?

The American Heart Association recently issued an advisory that stated there is inadequate research for concluding whether these diet beverages change the risk of stroke and heart disease in younger adults and youth. At this time, the Association points toward water (including unsweetened flavored varieties) as the 'best choice' for dieters seeking a no-calorie beverage.

Talking about the study is AHA's Rachel K. Johnson, Ph.D, R.D., who said:

Unfortunately, current research simply does not provide enough evidence to distinguish between the effects of different low-calorie sweeteners on heart and brain health. This study adds to the evidence that limiting use of diet beverages is the most prudent thing to do for your health ... Since long-term clinical trial data are not available on the effects of low-calorie sweetened drinks and cardiovascular health, given their lack of nutritional value, it may be prudent to limit their prolonged use.