You might feel like you’re doing your body a favor when you opt for diet soda instead of regular, but unfortunately, new research shows otherwise. Having two or more of any kind of artificially sweetened drink per day is linked to to an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, and even early death, according to a new study published in the journal Stroke.
The American Heart Association (AHA) and American Stroke Association (ASA) teamed up to study data from nearly 82,000 women ages 50 to 79. They found that while only 5.1% of participants actually drank two or more artificially sweetened beverages per day, that group had a 23% higher risk of stroke and a 29% higher risk of heart disease over a nearly 12-year study period compared to women who rarely or never had diet drinks. The high-risk group was also found to be 16% more likely to die from any cause whatsoever.
Two-a-day diet-beverage drinkers who had no previous heart disease or diabetes were 2.44 times more likely to have a stroke caused by a blood clot than women without previous conditions who drank little to no diet beverages. That number spiked to 3.93 times for African-American women but dipped to 2.03 for obese women.
The authors pointed out that the study shows only an association, not a cause-and-effect relationship, between drinking artificially sweetened beverages (aka sodas, fruit juices, teas, and more) and increased health risks.
“Many well-meaning people, especially those who are overweight or obese, drink low-calorie sweetened drinks to cut calories in their diet,’’ said lead study author Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani, PhD, in a press release. “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 researchers don’t know, however, which specific ingredient in diet drinks has the adverse health effects. “We don’t know specifically what types of artificially sweetened beverages they were consuming,’’ Mossavar-Rahmani said, “so we don’t know which artificial sweeteners may be harmful and which may be harmless.”
Diet soda has also been linked to an increased risk of dementia and—counterintuitively—weight gain, so chances are, your favorite artificially sweetened drinks aren’t doing you any health favors. The AHA has previously recommended drinking water instead. We know it might sound boring, but you can opt for water that’s carbonated or flavored without sweeteners to mimic the sweet, bubbly taste of soda. It could take some time to completely kick your soda habit, but we’re pretty sure your body will thank you when you do.