Many people turn to diet soft drinks in an effort to cut their calorie intake and prevent weight gain or other illnesses such as diabetes, which is a risk indicator for heart disease.
A study from the American Stroke Association claims to have found a link between diet pop and cardiovascular disease. The same link was not seen in those who consumed regular soda.
The findings are based on 2564 adult volunteers who were asked to complete a questionnaire about their eating habits, including their pop consumption. The researchers then monitored the health of the participants for about nine years.
The results revealed that people who drank at least one diet pop a day had a 48% higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke than those who reported no soda consumption. Those who drank regular soda in similar quantities faced no greater or lesser risk than those who avoided all pop.
This isn’t the first study to raise questions about diet drinks. Artificial sweeteners have a long history of receiving the hairy eyeball from food safety advocates. Some studies have indicated sugar substitutes may disrupt the normal digestive process causing the body to retrieve and absorb more sugars from the gut.
Other research has suggested that diet-soda drinkers faced an elevated risk of metabolic syndrome, a collection of disorders that places suffers at increased risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The researchers allow that the study has a few weaknesses that make if far from definite: it lacks information on the specific drinks other than pop that people consumed and it didn’t look in any great detail at the other factors in their volunteers’ lives (e.g. genetics and exercise habits).
It’s possible that people who gravitate to diet soda share other lifestyle quirks that put them at risk of heart troubles.
“If our results are confirmed with future studies, then it would suggest that diet soda may not be the optimal substitute for sugar-sweetened beverages,” said the lead author of the study Hannah Gardener, an epidemiologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
When asked why she thinks the findings came out the way they did, Dr. Gardener shied away from questions of biology and stuck to the numbers. “As far as I know, we don’t have any clear evidence for a mechanism. To say anything at this point would be speculation.”
Until more research is done, Dr. Gardener said, it’s too early to urge people off of diet drinks. But “if consumers want to be conservative, it’s important to keep in mind that there is no nutritional value in diet or regular sodas. And certainly the health consequences of regular soda – sugar-sweetened beverages – have been well documented. So cutting either out of your diet is not going to leave you with nutritional or vitamin holes.
If you really want to delve deeper into diet drink debate. Watch this YouTube clip about diet soda and weight gain:
Remember there’s always fruit juice. Or water.