Diet drinks, Stroke and Postmenopausal Women

WV Marshall

To all of us who drink diet soda in our efforts to maintain a healthy weight after menopause, the American Heart Association this message: Ditch the soda and drink water instead.

The study indicated women age 50 and older who drink more than one artificially sweetened drink a day are more likely to have a stroke, a heart attack and an early death, the heart association said.

Even women who don’t have a history of heart issues or diabetes are more vulnerable to increased health risks if they drink multiple diet beverages a day, the study indicated.

While the study identified a link between diet drinks and stroke, the association said results do not prove cause and effect because it was an observational study based on self-reported information about diet drink consumption.

Compared with women who consumed diet drinks no more than once a week or not at all, women who drink two or more artificially sweetened beverages per day were:

  • 23 percent more likely to have a stroke;
  • 31 percent more likely to have a clot-caused (ischemic) stroke;
  • 29 percent more likely to develop heart disease (fatal or non-fatal heart attack);
  • 16 percent more likely to die from any cause.

“Many well-meaning people, especially those who are overweight or obese, drink low-calorie sweetened drinks to cut calories in their diet,’’ said Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani, the study’s lead author. “Our research and other observational studies have shown that artificially sweetened beverages may not be harmless and high consumption is associated with a higher risk of stroke and heart disease.”

The AHA said researchers found risks were higher for certain women – including women without previous heart disease or diabetes, obese women without previous heart disease or diabetes and African-American women without previous heart disease or diabetes – who self-reported a heavy intake of diet drinks, defined as two or more times daily during the study.

Researchers analyzed data on 81,714 postmenopausal women participating in the Women’s Health Initiative study that tracked health outcomes for an average of 11.9 years after they enrolled between 1993 and 1998. At their three-year evaluation, the women reported how often in the previous three months they had consumed diet drinks. The study did not include information on specific artificial sweeteners the drinks contained.

“We don’t know specifically what types of artificially sweetened beverages they were consuming, so we don’t know which artificial sweeteners may be harmful and which may be harmless,” Mossavar-Rahmani said.

The American Heart Association also recently published a science advisory that found research was inadequate to draw a conclusion about the role diet drinks play in altering risk factors for heart disease and stroke in young children, teens or adults.

“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,” said Rachel K. Johnson, professor of nutrition emeritus, University of Vermont and writing group chair for the AHA’s science advisory, Low-Calorie Sweetened Beverages and Cardiometabolic Health.

The AHA suggests water as the best alternative to a diet beverage.

“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,” Johnson said.