Published: Fri, April 21, 2017
Health | By Jay Jacobs

Sweet Drinks Linked to Dementia

After accounting for these risk factors, the link was still significant between stroke and diet drinks, but was less dramatic for dementia and diet drinks.

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. The paper quotes the Northern Manhattan study as having found that "daily consumption of artificially sweetened soft drink was associated with a higher risk of combined vascular events but not stroke".

The researchers point out that both sugar and artificially-sweetened drink consumption has been linked, in previous research, to "cardiometabolic risk factors", such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and abnormal cholesterol - all of which increase the risk of stroke and dementia.

Exactly why diet drinks might be linked to these conditions isn't known, Pase added. This study, the authors noted, has the same limitations as the Alzheimer's & Disease analysis, as well as another important one: The association could be a case of reverse causality, "whereby sicker individuals consume diet beverages as a means of negating a further deterioration of health".

Those who drank one to six artificially sweetened beverages a week were 2.6 times as likely to experience an ischemic stroke but were no more likely to develop dementia, Pase said.

"When the authors controlled for hypertension and diabetes and obesity the effects diminish, which implies that some of the effects of artificially sweetened beverages could still be going through a vascular pathway", he said about the new study.

"People should be cautious about over-consuming diet drinks", he said.

One stroke expert said the findings are far from definitive.

There's more evidence that frequently gulping down sweet beverages could be bad for your brain. She's an assistant scientist in the department of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Diet drinks account for a quarter of the sweetened beverages market but there is growing evidence they are not as healthy as previously thought.

To their surprise, the team did not find the same risk for sugar-sweetened beverages.

Pase and colleagues analyzed data from the Framingham Heart Study Offspring cohort on people over age 45 years for the stroke arm (N=2,888) and people over age 60 years for the dementia arm (N=1,484).

A major review in January by Imperial College London researchers found they were no better at aiding weight loss than full fat drinks.

In these studies approximately 4,000 participants over the age of 30 from the community-based FHS were examined using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and cognitive testing to measure the relationship between beverage intake and brain volumes as well as thinking and memory.

"Even if someone is three times as likely to develop stroke or dementia", Pase said, "it is by no means a certain fate". For example, the participants who most frequently drank diet soft drinks were also more likely to be diabetic - which is in itself a risk factor for stroke and dementia. The results were adjusted for variables such as age, sex, caloric intake, diet quality, physical activity and smoking.

Defra's Family Food Survey, published last month, found that sales of regular soft drinks fell by 34.6% between 2010 and 2014, while low-calorie drinks purchases increased by 35.8%.

Rachel Johnson, past chairwoman of the American Heart Association's Nutrition Committee and professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont, said: 'We know that limiting added sugars is an important strategy to support good nutrition and healthy body weights, and until we know more, people should use artificially sweetened drinks cautiously. "America's beverage companies support and encourage balanced lifestyles by providing people with a range of beverage choices - with and without calories and sugar - so they can choose the beverage that is right for them".

"Low-calorie sweeteners have been proven safe by worldwide government safety authorities as well as hundreds of scientific studies, and there is nothing in this research that counters this well-established fact", the association said in a statement.

The authors caution that, while their studies were large and lengthy, they don't prove that soft drinks lead to memory or brain problems; they only found links between the drinks and brain effects.

However, they admitted that they can not prove a causal link between intake of diet drinks and development of either medical condition because their study was merely observational and based on details people provided in questionnaires logging their food and drink habits.

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