Weight loss diets should avoid diet soda. Many people on weight loss diets use diet soda as a “cheat.” They like the fact that it tastes sweet, often contains caffeine, yet is calorie free. But what is in diet soda? There’s no real food, just a chemical concoction created in a lab.

New Study Shows That Drinking Diet Soda Is Associated with Heart Disease

More bad news for diet soda lovers:

  • According to a new study by the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, 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.
  • The risks are highest for women with no history of heart disease or diabetes and women who are obese or African-American.
  • 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.

How the Research Was Conducted

  • More than 80,000 postmenopausal US women participating in the Women’s Health Initiative, a long-term national study, were asked how often they drank one 12-fluid-ounce serving of diet beverage over the previous three months.
  • Their health outcomes were tracked for an average of 11.9 years
  • After controlling for lifestyle factors, the study found that women who consumed two or more artificially sweetened beverages each day were 31% more likely to have a clot-based stroke, 29% more likely to have heart disease and 16% more likely to die from any cause than women who drank diet beverages less than once a week or not at all.
  • The analysis then looked at women with no history of heart disease and diabetes, which are key risk factors for stroke. The risks rose dramatically if those women were obese or African-American.
  • 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.
  • There was no such stroke linkage to women who were of normal weight or overweight.
  • African-American women without a previous history of heart or diabetes were about four times as likely to have a clot-based stroke. But that stroke risk didn’t apply to white women.
  • In white women, the risks were different. They were more 1.31% as likely to have coronary heart disease.

Lead study author Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani, Associate Professor of Health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, states that “Previous studies have focused on the bigger picture of cardiovascular disease. Our study focused on the most common type of stroke, ischemic stroke and its subtypes, one of which was small-vessel blockage. The other interesting thing about our study is that we looked at who is more vulnerable.”

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.

While these studies do not prove cause and effect, according to Dr. Ralph Sacco, Chairman of Neurology at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, “The more studies there are coming up with the same associations, the more you begin to question. The more you begin to feel strongly about the association being real.”

Does Diet Soda Help Weight Loss Diets?

But is there a possible benefit of artificially sweetened drinks for weight loss? This is a critical issue considering the epidemic of obesity in the United States and around the world.

The American Heart Association issued an advisory last year saying that short term use of low-calorie and artificially sweetened drinks to replace sugary ones “may be an effective strategy” to promote weight loss in adults, but not children.

University of Hawaii nutrition professor Rachel Johnson, chairwoman of the writing group for that scientific advisory explains:

  • The guidance is aimed at those who “find it difficult to move directly from sugary drinks to water. Low-calorie sweetened drinks may be a useful tool to help people make this transition.”
  • But on the whole, “there is solid science that consumption of sugary drinks is associated with adverse health outcomes. Thus, it may be prudent to limit intake until we know more about how they may impact people’s risk of stroke.”

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