Diet drinks may be linked to a higher risk of heart attacks, stroke and other heart problems in postmenopausal women, according to an informal study that could take some fizz out of enjoyment of the popular beverages.
Cardiovascular health trends
Compared to women who never or seldom consumed diet drinks, those who drank two or more a day were 30% more likely to suffer a cardiovascular event and 50% more likely to die from related disease, researchers found.
The findings were gleaned from an analysis of diet drink intake and consequences among almost 60 000 participants in the Women's Health Initiative, a long-running US observational study of cardiovascular health trends among postmenopausal women.
Read: Diet soda tied to heart attack, stroke risks
"Our findings are in line with and extend data from previous studies showing an association between diet drinks and metabolic syndrome," said Dr Ankur Vyas of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, lead investigator of the study. The syndrome is associated with a cluster of risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and weight gain.
Results of the study were presented at the annual scientific sessions of the American College of Cardiology, in Washington.
The average age of women in the diet drink study was just under 63, and they had to have had no history of cardiovascular disease to be included in the analysis.
Through a questionnaire, the women were asked to report their diet drink consumption over the previous three months. A drink was defined as a 12-ounce beverage and included both diet sodas and diet fruit drinks.
After an average follow-up of 8.7 years, a combination of negative outcomes including coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, heart attack, ischemic stroke, peripheral arterial disease and cardiovascular death were seen in some 8.5% of women who consumed two or more diet drinks a day.
That compared with 6.9% of women who had five to seven drinks per week, 6.8% having one to four drinks per week and 7.2% in those having zero to three diet drinks per month. "We only found an association, so we can't say that diet drinks cause these problems," Vyas said, adding that other factors may explain the apparent connection between diet drink consumption and risk of heart attack and stroke.
For instance, he noted that women who consumed two or more diet drinks per day were younger, more prone to be smokers, and had a higher prevalence of diabetes, high blood pressure and of being overweight. Vyas said more studies are needed to more closely assess diet sodas and cardiovascular risks, if such a connection actually exists.
Previous studies have suggested a connection between artificially sweetened drinks and weight gain in adults and teens, and a likely increase in metabolic syndrome.
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