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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 02/11/2011

Is that right? Drinking diet soda increases stroke risk?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget

Does drinking diet soda increase your risk of stroke?

Perhaps. But we don't really know for sure.

I don't typically report on research that hasn't been published in a peer-reviewed journal. But the provocative study about diet soda and stroke risk presented this week at the American Heart Association's and American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference in Los Angeles has generated enough ink and confusion to warrant some attention here.

In short, the smallish study conducted by a consortium of stroke researchers found that people who drank diet soda daily had a 61-percent increased risk of suffering ischemic stroke (the kind caused by a blockage in a blood vessel), heart attack and vascular-related deaths than those who drank no soda at all.

That association held after researchers controlled the data for age, sex, race/ethnicity, smoking, physical activity and alcohol consumption and for metabolic syndrome, peripheral vascular disease and cardiac disease history.

That's a scary figure. But as the press release announcing the study notes, the research had some shortcomings, not the least of which was that soda consumption was self-reported, didn't include details about what kinds of diet soda were consumed, and was gathered just once, at the research period's outset. (A parallel study involving sodium intake and stroke risk, with similar shortcomings, found stroke risk increased as sodium intake rose.) Not knowing more details about the beverages consumed prevented teasing out whether some ingredient such as coloring or sweeteners may play a key role in increasing stroke risk.

The sample size (2,564 people) was pretty small for major conclusions to be drawn from these findings. The authors acknowledge that their findings need to be replicated by future research before a relationship between diet soda intake and stroke risk can be established.

Still, if you're a big diet-soda drinker, it might be worth asking yourself how much of the stuff you really need. I don't drink it (or regular soda) myself, but I don't wag fingers at those who do. But I know people who guzzle diet sodas all day long, feeling free to do so because it adds no calories to their diets. As with anything, moderation may be in order.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | February 11, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Cardiovascular Health, Is That Right?, Nutrition and Fitness, Sodium, Strokes  
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Glaringly absent from your "controlled data" list: weight/obesity. Diet soft drinkers tend to be more obese than average....maybe there is some correlation there? Hmmm.

Posted by: BCinDC | February 12, 2011 2:29 AM | Report abuse

The only safe approach to soda is abstinence. Aspartame and High Fructose Corn Syrup are both deadly if consumed everyday

The irony is, it was a Japanese scientist who invented HFCS. At the time High Fructose Corn Syrup was adopted for use in the United States in the 1970s, Japan decided to go with a natural sweetener known as stevia, which is incredibly sweet and entirely safe and only has a couple of calories per serving.

Posted by: alance | February 12, 2011 7:13 AM | Report abuse

Also of note - more younger and middle-aged people are suffering storkes. Could they be limiting their calories if overweight or obese and using these diet sodas excessively to control their caloric intake? Just a thought.

Posted by: Utahreb | February 12, 2011 8:54 AM | Report abuse

This study attempts to link artificial sweeteners to stroke. Since they didn't differentiate between sweeteners, it has no value at all. Were the sodas sweetened by aspartame or sucralose (Splenda)? It makes a big difference which one. Aspartame may not be the greatest chemical in the world, but it sure beats Sucralose, which was never even tested by the FDA. The Bush administration labeled it a "natural" sweetener, thus removing it from FDA jurisdiction. Fact is, it would never have passed FDA testing - it has many side-effects, including diarrhea. This report should never have been released - it is inaccurate, misleading, and just plain bogus.

Posted by: scoogy | February 12, 2011 9:32 AM | Report abuse

There are a number of issues with this study that make it very preliminary, and people should not change their behavior based on it. There might be other reasons to moderate drinking diet soda, but stroke risk isn't one of them. Cornell Universities blog Evidence-Based Living has a post that points out the weaknesses in the study and the media reporting:

Posted by: larbajkarkama | February 12, 2011 10:13 AM | Report abuse

It would be nice to see the study itself instead of having to rely on second-hand reports. Some note that obesity was a controlled factor in the statistical analysis, others do not mention it. Also, the nature of the statistical analysis needs to be assessed. Some statistics in studies are, well, worthless or worthy of a grammar school student. In any case, all we have right now are talking heads and no substance.

Posted by: LawyerTom1 | February 12, 2011 11:58 AM | Report abuse

I have never seen it proven that Aspartame is deadly. I use several packages a day in coffee..tea etc. If the sweetner is this deadly. why doesn't FDA pull it.? They surely have pulled meds right away from consumers, that need them.

Posted by: mamananagramps | February 12, 2011 1:51 PM | Report abuse

The only safe approach to soda is abstinence. Aspartame and High Fructose Corn Syrup are both deadly if consumed everyday

Any links to studies to back that up? Didn't think so. This study was not peer reviewed. It is nothing but laughable junk science reported by the typically lazy media to generate hits and ratings. Nothing to see here.

Posted by: Axel2 | February 12, 2011 1:53 PM | Report abuse

I use Aspartame on a daily basis. It has never been proven..that it is definitely unsafe..If so, why doesn't the FDA pull from market? Thank you.

Posted by: mamananagramps | February 12, 2011 1:54 PM | Report abuse

If Aspartame is dangerous to our health..why doesn't the FDA pull from the market? This has been a question of safety for many years. Thank you.

Posted by: mamananagramps | February 12, 2011 2:03 PM | Report abuse

In D'adamo's blood type diet aspertame is not good for blood type A, and neutral for O. When D'adamo graduated to the genotype diet, he said aspertame was bad for everyone. But i still believe its okay for blood type O...I think he was just being politically correct.

I wouldn't trust the FDA. They allow that hormone in our milk, produced by Monsanto, and it was proven to cause cancer in mice. These companies have years to manage who goes to work at the FDA or who gets appointed international agricultural positions to attempt to influence foreign governments about what kind of seeds they use, etc. (see wikileaks)

Posted by: cozzete | February 15, 2011 1:02 PM | Report abuse

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