Ask The Pharmacist: Diet drinks may increase stroke and disability

Suzy Cohen

We are so attached to our food and drink that it pains me when I must take something away from you. But this is an old story for me. I have never ever recommended artificially sweetened sodas or “diet” anything!

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To me, that whole industry is a multi-billion-dollar campaign effort to get you to drink and eat things that aren’t, by definition, food anymore. The entire industry depends on the illusion of you thinking that diet drinks are healthy. 

Diet sodas are not the lesser evil; they are just as evil as regular soda, and some argue they are actually worse. Linking low- or zero-calorie soft drinks to specific illnesses is tricky, and researchers are cautious to call them flat-out dangerous or point to cause and effect. It is not always clear if the problem is the drink itself or if it is the result of other factors, such as obesity. Though the cause of the problem many not be definitive, no health experts will recommend drinking diet soda instead of, say, water or juice. The undeniable fact is that soft drinks offer little to no nutritional value.     To identify 10 reasons why people should stop drinking diet soda, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed scores of medical studies and meta-analyses in journals published by nonprofit health organizations, such as the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Associations, which examine the health effects of artificially sweetened beverages.

The latest research is frightening. It’s based upon data collected over 12 years and suggests that consuming just five diet drinks (sodas, juices, other) correlates to a much higher risk of stroke and heart disease, and in fact a dramatically higher risk of dying early from any cause. This data was extrapolated from a study on people over the age of 50, who did not have other major health problems. They were essentially well, but after drinking artificially sweetened drinks for 12 years, a lot of them had a stroke.

Recent research suggests that diet soda drinkers consume more calories after drinking such sodas than folks who drink non-diet sodas.

What’s wrong with water? Water does not come with the risk that one day someone will have to change your adult diapers. Water makes sense, yet some health practitioners recommend “diet” beverages to cut calories, support weight loss or improve health status. Very sad.
The study that I’ve been referring to is entitled: “Artificially sweetened beverages and stroke, coronary heart disease, and all-cause mortality” in the Women’s Health Initiative.
 The study finds your risk for a hemorrhagic stroke is dramatically higher if you drink a lot of diet sodas. No brand is the problem, it’s the artificial chemicals inside of these drinks. It’s egregious that these things are not only allowed to be sold, no less pitched to you as some healthy alternative. So, it’s up to you to know better.  

The newest research was published in a journal called Stroke. Over 80,000 women were studied, most between the ages of 55 and 79. Drinking a couple of diet drinks each day (335ml which is the amount in a typical can of soda) increases your risk for stroke by 23 percent compared to women who drink less than one per week.
Every 40 seconds, someone in the US has a stroke. If survived, a stroke can leave one paralyzed and sometimes in need of nursing home care or bed-ridden. Other post-TIA or stroke disabilities include confusion, inability to speak or understand language, poor memory, difficulty swallowing food (requiring a feeding tube) or blindness and/or hearing loss.

15. Ban soda from your diet     Soft drinks have been described as a "key contributor to the epidemic of overweight and obesity" in a medical review by the National Institutes of Health because they contain so much sugar. Some research has even suggested that drinking just one fewer can of soda per week can lead to weight loss. Diet sodas are not better because they contain artificial sweeteners that can encourage sugar cravings and sugar dependence. A study examining people over 65 found that those who drank diet soda gained a lot more stomach fat than people of the same age who drank other beverages.

Other factors that further raise your risk include being overweight, sedentary, nutritionally deficient in essential nutrients or fatty acids that support brain health, and of course your genes. Impending signs include sudden eyesight loss or visual changes, slurring, inability to speak or understand, tingling and balance problems.

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Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist. The information presented here is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose any condition. Visit