Many people consider diet or sugar-free beverages to be a safe and healthy part of a well-balanced diet, especially if they’re looking to control their weight. New research, however, suggests that diet beverages may not be so healthy after all. In fact, there is some scientific evidence which now suggests that consuming diet drinks leads to an increased risk of stroke — especially among postmenopausal women.
A new study published in the journal Stroke was one of the first to investigate the link between diet beverages (which are sweetened with artificial sweeteners) and risk of stroke. The large-scale study included 81,714 postmenopausal women between the ages of 50 and 79 years of racially diverse backgrounds who participated in the Women's Health Initiative study. This study tracked health conditions and outcomes for an average of 11 years total. After the three-year mark, women self-reported how many artificially-sweetened or diet beverages they drank in a day, including diet sodas and fruit drinks. After the data was collected, it was adjusted to factor in other risk factors for stroke such as age, blood pressure, and whether or not the woman was a smoker.
From the data collected, researchers were able to determine that women who consumed two or more diet drinks per day were 23 percent more likely to have a stroke and 31 percent more likely to have a clot-caused stroke when compared with women who consumed artificially-sweetened drinks once a week or not at all. In addition to this, the women who consumed more diet beverages were also 29 percent more likely to develop heart disease. These women were also deemed 16 percent more likely to die from any cause. Furthermore, the findings also suggested that the risk of stroke more than doubled in women with a history of heart disease, women with diabetes, and women who were considered obese.
While the numbers are clearly indicative that diet drinks may not be as healthy an alternative as we may have thought, researchers didn’t take into consideration which specific drinks caused these results, so we don’t know exactly which artificial sweeteners are the culprits. However, it’s safe to say that if you fall within this age range or have had any of the conditions listed, you may want to limit your intake of diet drinks to protect your heart. As Rachel K. Johnson, PhD, professor of nutrition and chair of the writing group for the American Heart Association's science advisory says: “This study adds to the evidence that limiting use of diet beverages is the most prudent thing to do for your health." For some other options for tasty, nutritious drinks that can aid in weight-loss, check out this list of health-boosting beverages.