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Is Diet Soda Linked to Heart, Stroke Risk?

Study Suggests Connection Between Drinking Diet Soda and Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke
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Missing Variables continued...

They were also asked about their exercise routine, as well as whether they smoked or drank alcohol. The participants also had physical checkups.

Of the total, 901 said they never drank soda or drank it less than once a month, 282 said they drank at least one regular soda daily, and 116 reported they drank at least one diet soda daily.

Over the next nine years, 212 of them had strokes, 149 had a heart attack, and 338 died from vascular disease.

Study Drawbacks

One drawback of the study is that participants were only asked about their soda habits at one time point; they could have changed over the study period, Gardener says. Also, there was no information on the types of soft drinks drunk, she says, pointing out that variations among brands, coloring, and sweeteners could have affected the results.

Philip B. Gorelick, MD, MPH, head of neurology and stoke research at the University of Illinois in Chicago, says the food questionnaire used in the study isn't a good way to gauge people's overall dietary patterns.

"You have to look at what people eat in totality," he tells WebMD. "People who are reducing calories by drinking diet soda may have an unhealthy dietary pattern, consuming a lot of fat and salt, for example. And that won't be picked up using a questionnaire like the one used here."

Storey says there is no diet soda-heart and stroke connection. "There is no scientific evidence to support the idea that diet soda uniquely causes increased risk of vascular events or stroke,” she says in a written statement. “The body of scientific evidence does show that diet soft drinks can be a useful weight management tool, a position supported by the American Dietetic Association. Thus, to suggest that they are harmful with no credible evidence does a disservice to those trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight."

As for why diet soda might be bad for our hearts and brains, Gardener says that's still a big question mark.

Previous research linking regular and diet soda to diabetes and metabolic syndrome, both of which are risk factors for stroke and heart attacks, may offer a clue, she says.

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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