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Diet soda study looks at dementia, heart risks

21 April 2017

This does not necessarily imply causality, however, as multiple other confounders may be present.

After adjusting for factors that could influence the results, such as age, sex, education, calorie intake, exercise and smoking, people who had at least one diet drink a day had an nearly three times increased risk of dementia or stroke.

In the observational study, those who drank at least one artificially-sweetened beverage a day were almost three times more likely to develop ischemic stroke (HR 2.96, 95% CI 1.26-6.97) and 2.9 times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease (95% CI 1.18-7.07) over 10 years than those who abstained, Matthew Pase, PhD, of Boston University School of Medicine, and colleagues reported in the American Heart Association's journal Stroke. It rots your teeth, makes you fat, and puts you at a higher risk of diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. "We recommend that people drink water on a regular basis instead of sugary or artificially sweetened beverages". However both sugar and artificially-sweetened beverage consumption has been linked to cardiometabolic risk factors, which increases the risk of cerebrovascular disease and dementia.

"Association is not the same as causation, although the survival curves are impressive", Nestle said.

"The statistical relationship between artificially sweetened drinks and dementia disappears when the analysis controls for diabetes".

Several other experts commented on the "controversial but inconclusive" nature of the association. The study found 81 cases of dementia, or 5 percent of the participants in the dementia arm of the study.

When it comes to the dangers of regularly drinking soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages, the science is clear.

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"This article provides further evidence though on artificially sweetened beverages and their possible effects on vascular health, including stroke and dementia", said Dr. Ralph Sacco, professor and chair of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, about the new study.

The new research, published in the American Heart Association's journal Stroke, is based on data for more than 4,300 people taking part in the Framingham Heart Study.

Over seven years, researchers used food frequency questionnaires up to three different points in time.

In the older-than-45 group, the researchers measured for stroke and in the older-than-60 group, they measured for dementia.

However, they admitted that they can not prove a causal link between intake of diet drinks and development of either medical condition because their study was merely observational and based on details people provided in questionnaires logging their food and drink habits.

The number of people in the study was also limited.

However, researchers found no link between sugary drinks and an increased risk of stroke and dementia, though they warned people not to view sugary drinks as a "healthy option".

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"In our first study we found that those who more frequently consume sugary beverages such as fruit juices and sodas had greater evidence of accelerated brain aging such as overall smaller brain volumes, they had poorer memory function and they also had smaller hippocampus, which is an area of the brain important for memory consolidation", Pase said.

Researchers analyzed the self-reported diets of two sets of people participating in the Framingham Heart Study, the longest-running heart study in the US, funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and run in partnership with Boston University.

Matthew Pase, a senior fellow in the department of neurology at Boston University's school of medicine who was one of the co-authors, said that despite no evidence of a causal link, the apparent connection between sweetened drinks and the two conditions "does identify an intriguing trend that will need to be explored in other studies".

Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: 'As people are becoming more aware of the consequences of a high-sugar diet, many are turning to artificially-sweetened diet fizzy drinks as an alternative to those with lots of sugar.

Excess sugar is known to have adverse effects on health.

Participants were asked, over several weeks, to report their daily beverage intake.

He added: "Even if someone is three times as likely to develop stroke or dementia, it is by no means a certain fate".

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Pase reported funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council. The data came from the Framingham Heart Study, a project of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and Boston University.

Diet soda study looks at dementia, heart risks