By Dr. Mercola
Diet soda is often perceived as being "healthier" than regular soft drinks because it contains artificial sweeteners in lieu of sugar, and therefore has no calories.
Many conventional nutritionists will even go so far as to recommend diet soda as a sensible beverage choice.
Sugar, and particularly the sugar often used to sweeten regular soda, is clearly something you need to limit for optimal health... but, while I do not recommend you drink any soda, if given the choice, between regular soda and diet, the regular soda would likely be less damaging to your health
In fact, before you reach for another can, you might want to get up to speed on the latest research, which shows that drinking diet soda results in an increased risk of vascular events such as stroke, heart attack, and vascular death.i
Is Drinking Diet Soda Worth Increasing Your Stroke Risk?
Diet soda can be addictive, so if you need incentive and motivation to quit this habit, ask yourself whether the pleasure you get from drinking it is worth having a stroke.
This is a very real scenario, as researchers found that people who drank diet soft drinks daily were 43 percent more likely to have suffered a vascular event, including a stroke.
This significant association persisted even after controlling for other factors that could increase the risk, such as smoking, physical activity levels, alcohol consumption, diabetes, heart disease, dietary factors and more.
According to the authors:
"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."
Vascular events like strokes and heart attacks typically occur suddenly without any warning, which is why prevention is so important. I like to refer to the most common type of stroke as a brain attack, which is similar to a heart attack; the only difference is that the blood clot blocks blood flow to your brain instead of your heart. As a result, brain cells begin to die. Naturally, the longer your brain goes without oxygen, the greater your risk of lasting brain damage.
This is one area where conventional emergency medicine excels, as there are emergency medications that can actually dissolve a blood clot that is blocking blood flow to your brain, and if done quickly enough can virtually reverse any permanent neurological damage.
In order to be effective, you typically need to get treated within one hour. This is clearly one of the miracles of modern science, however it all goes to waste if you do not address the underlying conditions after the stroke. Again, prevention is your best option, and research is now suggesting that eliminating diet sodas may be an important way to dramatically reduce your stroke risk.
While more research will likely be needed to confirm this potential link, there's plenty of evidence showing that artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose (Splenda) can be dangerous to your health. I believe aspartame is, by far, the most dangerous artificial sweetener on the market. Reports of adverse reactions to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also support this, as aspartame accounts for over 75 percent of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA.
Need Even More Incentive to Ditch Diet Soda? It May Make You Fat
If potentially lowering your risk of heart attack and stroke doesn't spur you to ditch this dangerous habit, maybe the fact that diet soda will make you fat will.
A study by researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, presented at the 2011 meeting of the American Diabetes Association, followed 474 diet soda drinkers for nearly 10 years. They found that their waists grew 70 percent larger than the waists of non-diet soda drinkers. Furthermore, those who drank two or more diet sodas a day had a 500 percent greater increase in waist size!ii
As you may know, your waist size is not only a matter of aesthetics, but also one of the most powerful predictors of lean body mass and your risk of serious degenerative disease. Your waist size is a far more accurate predictor of your heart risks than your body mass index (BMI), so any habit that has the potential to increase your waist size by 500 percent more than someone who does not have that habit is one worth breaking.
A second study by some of the same researchers also revealed that mice eating food laced with the artificial sweetener aspartame had higher blood sugar levels than mice eating food without it, which suggests it may increase your risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome.iii In a statement, the researchers noted:
"These results are consistent with data from community-based epidemiologic studies in which the consumption of diet sodas was shown to be associated with increased incidence of metabolic syndrome and diabetes. They suggest that aspartame exposure may in fact directly contribute to increased blood glucose levels, and thus may contribute to the associations observed between diet soda consumption and the risk of diabetes in humans."
Artificial sweeteners also tend to trigger enhanced activity within your brain's pleasure centers, yet at the same time providing less actual satisfaction. This separation of the taste of sweetness from caloric content means that when you consume artificial sweeteners, your brain actually craves more of it because your body is not satisfied at a cellular level by the sugar imposter! This can actually contribute to overeating and weight gain. Furthermore, research by Sharon P. Fowler, MPH, who was also involved in the studies noted above, and her colleagues found that your risk of obesity increases by 41 percent for each can of diet soda you drink in a day!iv
Another Powerful Strategy to Reduce Your Stroke Risk
If you want to decrease your risk of stroke, along with ditching diet soda one of the best things you can do is get some sunshine. A research team recently used NASA satellite data to determine how sunlight corresponded with stroke risk, and found that people who got less than the midpoint level of sun exposure were at a 60 percent increased risk for stroke.v
The connection is most likely due to the "sunshine vitamin," vitamin D, which is produced when your body is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D has been associated with a lower risk of stroke and heart attack risk in previous research. Not only is vitamin D known to help reduce your risk of arterial stiffness, a major risk factor for stroke, but it can also:
- Increase in your body's natural anti-inflammatory cytokines
- Suppress vascular calcification
- Inhibit vascular smooth muscle growth
Ideally, your body will make all the vitamin D you need from safe sun exposure or a safe tanning bed. But if you are not able to get sun exposure on a regular basis (and the exposure must be on large portions of your skin, not just your face or hands), you may need to supplement with oral vitamin D3. You can find more information to optimize your vitamin D levels here.
Up to 80 Percent of Strokes are Preventable
A stroke can be devastating to your quality of life, impacting speech, movement and memory; it can also be deadly. Strokes are currently the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, along with a leading cause of disability. The good news is that up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable, according to the National Stroke Association—so you have a lot of "say" in whether or not you're going to end up as a statistic.
Your diet, vitamin D status, and exercise habits are three important lifestyle factors that have a direct bearing on your individual risk. In terms of diet, foods to avoid—because they can directly increase your risk—include processed foods containing trans fats, smoked or processed meats, and diet sodas. You can find guidelines for healthy foods to eat more of, namely unprocessed, preferably organic foods, in my nutrition plan.
Two additional risk factors that can have a direct impact on your stroke risk are:
- Psychological distress. The more stressed you are, the greater your risk. One study found that for every notch lower a person scored on their well-being scale, their risk of stroke increased by 11 percent.vi Not surprisingly, the relationship between psychological distress and stroke was most pronounced when the stroke was fatal.
Embracing strategies to support your emotional health can be invaluable here. Along with exercise, journaling and relaxation, you can also try the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which incidentally may also help you to kick your diet soda cravings.
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and birth control pills. If you're on one of the hormonal birth control methods (whether it's the pill, patch, vaginal ring or implant), it is important to understand that you are taking synthetic progesterone and synthetic estrogen -- something that is clearly not advantageous if you want to maintain optimal health. These contraceptives contain the same synthetic hormones as those used in hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which has well-documented risks, including an increased risk of blood clots, stroke, heart attack, and breast cancer.
I want to mention again that in the event you suffer from a stroke, the sooner you get medical help the better are your chances of reversing any permanent neurological damage. So if you notice any of these signs of stroke, you should get emergency medical help right away:
- Sudden trouble walking (dizziness, loss of balance, etc.)
- Sudden confusion
- Sudden numbness or weakness (especially on one side of your body only)
- Sudden trouble seeing
- Sudden severe headache