Research recently presented at the 2011 American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference concluded there could negative consequences associated with consuming too many sugar substitutes.
"This study suggests that diet soda is not an optimal substitute for sugar-sweetened beverages, and may be associated with a greater risk of stroke, myocardial infarction, or vascular death than regular soda," the researchers said.
Some critics have argued that since the participants voluntarily reported how much diet soda they consumed, the results do not come from a rigorously controlled setting.
“There is no scientific evidence to support the idea that diet soda uniquely causes increased risk of vascular events or stroke,” said Dr. Maureen Storey, senior vice president of science policy for the American Beverage Association. Storey pointed out that this information comes from a research paper abstract presented at a conference, and was not in a study reviewed for publication by experts in the field. Also, the study authors did not control for weight gain or for family history of stroke.
This is the first time diet soda has been officially linked to vascular events, but previous research has implicated it in other health issues.
A 2007 study in the American Heart Association journal Circulation found that people who drink one or more soft drinks a day are more likely to develop metabolic syndrome, a heart disease precursor, than people who drink less than one soda a day.
Dr. Grout’s comment:
The study does not say what exactly about diet soda may be responsible for heart disease. Enough associations lead one to suspect a causative association, but cause and effect are definitely tricky to prove. Some experts are pointing to aspartame, the key feature in most diet drinks, as being the problem. Dr. H. J. Roberts, author of Aspartame Disease: An Ignored Epidemic, and an expert in the field of aspartame’s effects, has said that aspartame causes an irregular heart rhythm and interacts with all cardiac medications. He says it damages the cardiac conduction system and can cause sudden death. He says aspartame also can be responsible for “numerous misdiagnoses include arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer's disease.”
Cori Brackett's documentary film Sweet Misery is an acclaimed documentary about the health dangers of aspartame.
Meanwhile, as CardioBrief.org reports, there is controversy about Diet Coke cans sporting a red dress, the symbol of awareness of heart disease in women. The artwork of the dress came from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and is slightly different than the AHA version. “Who knew there were two such programs? And who would ever have thought Coke could buy a partnership with the NHLBI?”
There is also a pointed editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal questioning why many health organizations allow their messages and reputations to be “tarnished by partnerships with food companies” which serve up highly processed, nutritionally deprived and calorie-rich foods that contribute to the obesity epidemic. “Through these partnerships, the food industry seeks to emphasize that inactivity — not the promotion and consumption of its calorie-rich products — is the prime cause of obesity,” the authors wrote. “When they partner, health organizations become inadvertent pitchmen for the food industry.” Getting unvarnished information about food is impossible when corporate money spins the message.