A new report in a leading American journal has raised fears over the impact of artificial sweeteners in diet drinks, despite the scientists behind it admitting their research was inconclusive.
The report, published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke, claimed drinking at least one artificially sweetened beverage daily is associated with almost three times the risk of developing stroke or dementia compared with those who drink less, according to new research.
The researchers analysed a study of 2,888 people, primarily Caucasian, over the age of 45 for the stroke study and 1,484 people over the age of 60 for the dementia arm of the study. Over a period of seven years, they reviewed what people were drinking at three different points in time.
Participants reported their eating and drinking habits by responding to food frequency questionnaires.
The researchers then followed up with the study subjects for the next 10 years to determine who developed stroke or dementia, then compared the dietary information to the risk of developing stroke and dementia over the course of the study.
The data collected did not distinguish between the types of artificial sweeteners used in the beverages.
The study concluded people who drank at least one artificially sweetened beverage a day were three times as likely to develop ischemic stroke and 2.9 times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s dementia.
However, The authors cautioned that the long-term observational study was not designed or able to prove cause and effect, and only showed a trend among one group of people.
“Our study shows a need to put more research into this area given how often people drink artificially sweetened beverages,” said author Matthew Pase.
“Although we did not find an association between stroke or dementia and the consumption of sugary drinks, this certainly does not mean they are a healthy option. We recommend that people drink water on a regular basis instead of sugary or artificially sweetened beverages.”
However, BSDA director general Gavin Partington claimed the study was “riddled with scientific limitations”.
“Despite their claims, the authors of this observational study admit they found no cause and effect and provide no science-based evidence whatsoever to support their theories. In fact, based on the evidence, Public Health England is actively encouraging food and drink companies to use low calorie sweeteners as an alternative to sugar and help people manage their weight. “Surely we should be trying to help consumers reduce their calorie intake, not presenting unproven claims,” he said.