Are diet drinks a harmless, no-calorie way to have a soda?
Not according to a large study that analyzed data on more than 81,000 postmenopausal women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative study. It found an association between daily diet drinks and ischemic stroke—the most common type.
Compared with women who had diet drinks less than once a week or none at all, women who had two or more artificially sweetened drinks per day were:
- 23 percent more likely to have a stroke.
- 31 percent more likely to have an ischemic stroke (caused by a clot in an artery).
- 29 percent more likely to have a heart attack.
When it came to stroke, women with a diet drink habit were especially prone to strokes caused by a blockage in a small artery. Women without previous heart disease or diabetes were about 2.5 times more likely to have an ischemic stroke caused by blockage of one of the very small arteries in the brain. African American women without previous heart disease or diabetes were nearly four times as likely to have a stroke caused by a blood clot.
The study, published in the journal Stroke, was one of the first to look at the link between drinking diet drinks and the risk of specific types of stroke in a large, racially diverse group of older women. It’s important to note that the study only found an association between diet drinks and stroke. It does not prove cause and effect. And the findings might be different for younger women or for men.
The American Heart Association recommends that people replace diet drinks with plain, carbonated and unsweetened flavored water.