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Study: Diet drinks increase older women's risks for stroke, heart disease

Older women who drink diet sodas or artificially sweetened fruit juices run a higher risk of stroke and heart disease, according to a study released Thursday.
Older women who drink diet sodas or artificially sweetened fruit juices run a higher risk of stroke and heart disease, according to a study released on Feb. 14, 2019.
Older women who drink diet sodas or artificially sweetened fruit juices run a higher risk of stroke and heart disease, according to a study released on Feb. 14, 2019.
Published Feb. 15, 2019

Older women who drink diet sodas or artificially sweetened fruit juices run a higher risk of stroke and heart disease, according to a study released Thursday.

The study, conducted by the American Heart Associated and the results of which appeared in the journal Stroke, was conducted between 1993-98 with 81,714 postmenopausal women between 50 and 79 years old who enrolled in the Women's Health Initiative trial over an average of 11.9 years.

It examined the results of women who drank two or more artificially sweetened drinks a day, compared to those who had a diet drink less than once a week.

Those who consumed more drinks, according to the study:

Were 31 percent more likely to develop a stroke caused by a clot;

Were 23 percent more likely to have a stroke;

Were 29 percent more likely to develop heart disease, and at risk for a heart attack;

Were 16 percent more likely to die by any cause.

The results also were adjusted to take into account various other factors, including age, smoking and high blood pressure.

"Many well-meaning people, especially those who are overweight or obese, drink low-calorie sweetened drinks to cut calories in their diet," Dr. Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani, lead author of the study, said in a news 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."

Since the study didn't specify any specific artificial sweetener, "we don't know which artificial sweeteners may be harmful and which may be harmless," said Mossavar-Rahmani, associate professor of clinical epidemiology and population health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York.

The American Heart Association found there was "inadequate scientific research" to conclude low-calorie drinks increase risks of stroke and heart disease and said diet drinks are an alternative to sugary, high-calorie drinks, according to a release.

Yet, it maintains water is the better alternative.

"The American Heart Association suggests water as the best choice for a no-calorie beverage," Dr. Rachel K. Johnson, who authored the study on the link between low-calorie drinks and cardiometabolic health, said in the news release. "However, for some adults, diet drinks with low calorie sweeteners may be helpful as they transition to adopting water as their primary drink.

"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."

Contact Carl Lisciandrello at clisciandrello@tampabay.com. Follow @carlmarks Times