Study explores link between high diet soda consumption and dementia risk

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Diet soda has always been touted as a healthier alternative to sugary soft drinks, but a new study raises some concerning questions.

For the study, the researchers used the data from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS).

Their study of nearly 4,400 adults also suggests diet drinks are more likely to cause strokes and dementia than those full of sugar.

Researchers reviewed what people were drinking at different times over a period of seven years, based on food frequency questionnaires filled in by the study subjects. "Dementia is rare in people under the age of 60 and so we focused only on those aged over 60 years for dementia".

"This makes it more likely that there is a group of people who both use artificially sweetened drinks and are at higher risk of dementia, presumably because they have a risk factor, such as diabetes, for which a low sugar diet has been recommended".

People who guzzle down diet fizzy drinks every day are three times more likely to suffer from a stroke or develop dementia, warns new research. Earlier in 2007, another study concluded that those who drink diet soda are no less at risk of developing heart disease compared to those who drink regular soda.

According to an accompanying editorial, the current body of scientific research is inconclusive regarding whether or not drinking artificially sweetened beverages can actually lead to stroke, dementia or other cardiovascular conditions.

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Researchers then followed the group for 10 years, and observed 81 cases of dementia and 97 cases of stroke in that time.

He cautioned that the association between artificially sweetened drinks and stroke and dementia seen in their study does not imply causation - a point emphasized by Marion Nestle, PhD, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, who wasn't involved in the study.

"In our first study we found that those who more frequently consume sugary beverages, such as fruit juices and sodas had greater evidence of accelerated brain aging such as overall smaller brain volumes, they had poorer memory function and they also had smaller hippocampus, which is an area of the brain important for memory consolidation", Pase said, according to NBC News.

"While we respect the mission of these organizations to help prevent conditions like stroke and dementia, the authors of this study acknowledge that their conclusions do not - and can not - prove cause and effect", the American Beverage Association added. Further, they mentioned that total sugary beverages and sugar-sweetened soft drinks were not associated with an increased risk of dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

Just one artificially sweetened drink a day seems to increase those chances almost threefold, compared with drinking less than one a week, the researchers said.

Now, because this was an observational study-meaning it identifies trends over time-it can't definitely prove that artificial sweeteners somehow cause dementia or stroke. Future studies are needed to test whether giving people artificial sweeteners causes adverse effects on the brain. Sugar has always been associated with obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, he adds, but fewer studies have been done on its long-term effects on the brain. "So, I believe the mechanisms may be through vascular disease, though we can't prove it".