The Guardian dropped a bombshell of a health report on Thursday. Researchers working on the Farmingham heart study, which has tracked the health of thousands of residents from Farmingham Massachusetts since 1948, discovered a correlation between the consumption of artificial sweeteners and several serious health conditions. Apparently, drinking a diet soda every day may triple your risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and stroke.
“After adjustments for age, sex, education (for analysis of dementia), calorific intake, diet quality, physical activity and smoking, higher recent and higher cumulative intake of artificially sweetened soft drinks were associated with an increased risk of ischaemic stroke, all-cause dementia and Alzheimer’s disease dementia,” the co-authors write.
Those consuming at least a can of so-called diet drinks every day were 2.96 times more likely to suffer an ischaemic stroke and 2.89 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who drank them less than once a week, they found.
Ischaemic strokes occur when blood cannot get to the brain because of a blockage, often one caused by a blood clot forming in either an artery leading to the brain or inside a vein in the brain itself. They comprise the large majority of the 152,0000 strokes a year which occur.
So far the researchers haven’t found a clear causation, meaning that there could be other reasons why people who drink so much diet soda are afflicted with these conditions. Though the study didn’t find a link between consuming regular sugar laden sodas with stroke, Alzheimer’s, or dementia, there’s a good chance that real sugar is the problem here.
What most people don’t realize is that consuming artificial sweeteners can lead to more sugar consumption. It makes you crave sugar. The leading theory on why this happens, has to do with how your body responds to sweet foods. When you eat something that’s sweet, regardless of whether or not that sweetness comes from real sugar, your body produces insulin to process it. But if you don’t have any significant levels of sugar in your bloodstream, there’s nothing to balance out the insulin, so you crave sugar even more.
So it wouldn’t be far-fetched if sugar is still the real culprit here. That’s because previous studies have also shown correlations between sugar consumption and heightened risks of dementia and strokes. So instead of diet sodas by themselves, the real problem may be that people are consuming artificial sweeteners, and then pigging out on large quantities of sugar.
To give you an idea how horrible real sugar is for your health, one study found that people who drink one or more sugar sweetened sodas a day had a 16% higher chance of having a stroke. That may not sound like a lot, but that 16% emerged after watching subjects over the course of 20 and 30 day periods. Compare that to the Farmingham study and artificial sweeteners, which found that your risk of having a stroke nearly tripled. However, that was based on ten years of data. Clearly, sugar consumption shows a stronger relationship to strokes than artificial sweeteners.
Obviously, we’re still talking about studies that have found a correlation, not definitive proof. Regardless, the results of these studies are both alarming and compelling. It would be wise to stay away from both added sugars, and artificial sweeteners.