Diet Drinks Linked to Heightened AFib Risk, Study Says

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March 5, 2024 – People who drink 2 liters or more of artificially sweetened beverages per week raised their risk of the heart condition atrial fibrillation by 20%, compared to people who drank no artificially sweetened beverages, according to new research. 

The study, published in the journal Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology, also found that people who drank 2 liters (about 67 ounces) or more per week of sugar-sweetened beverages had a 10% higher risk of atrial fibrillation. People who drank 1 liter or less of pure fruit juice each week had an 8% lower risk of atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation, sometimes called AFib or arrhythmia, is a quivery, fluttery heartbeat caused by faulty electrical signals in the heart. The abnormal rhythm stops the heart from pumping as well as it should and raises the chances of having a stroke and other heart problems.

Researchers examined health records of about 202,000 people in the UK Biobank, a biomedical database for people who received health care through the U.K.’s National Health Service. The people they studied were 45% male and ranged in age from 37 to 73. During a 10-year follow-up period, researchers found 9,362 cases of AFib among them.

Those who consumed more artificially sweetened beverages were more likely to be female, younger, weigh more, and have type 2 diabetes. Those consuming more sugary beverages were more likely to be male, younger, weigh more, and have heart disease and a lower socioeconomic status.

The study found a link between diet drinks and AFib – but did not confirm that the drinks caused AFib.

“However, based on these findings, we recommend that people reduce or even avoid artificially sweetened and sugar-sweetened beverages whenever possible. Do not take it for granted that drinking low-sugar and low-calorie artificially sweetened beverages is healthy, it may pose potential health risks,” Ningjian Wang, MD, PhD, lead study author and a researcher at the Shanghai Ninth People's Hospital and Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine in Shanghai, China, said in a news release from the American Heart Association about the study. 

Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, an American Heart Association Nutrition Committee member who wasn’t involved in the research, said this was the first study to report a link between these kinds of beverages and a higher risk of atrial fibrillation. 

She called for more research on the topic and noted that "in the meantime, water is the best choice, and, based on this study, no- and low-calorie sweetened beverages should be limited or avoided.”