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Diet drinks and stroke - don't wait for the research

By: Judy Davie - The Food Coach

For years I have written advising people against diet soft drinks which, in my opinion, are worse than sugar sweetened beverages. And we all know how bad they are.

Anecdotally, I knew of a young woman addicted to Diet Coke who experienced a series of mini strokes which the doctors couldn't attribute to any condition. Given her daily 2-litre diet drink habit I was willing to bet large sums of money what the problem was, but as we all know, without data it's just an opinion.

Well there is more data, although the scientists think not yet enough.

The study, conducted by Boston University School of Medicine, Massachusetts, found that consumption of one can of diet soda or more each day was associated with a three times increased risk for stroke and dementia over a 10-year follow-up period compared with individuals who drank no artificially sweetened beverages. People with lower intakes - between 1 and 6 drinks a week - were still associated with stroke but not dementia.

They don't know how these diet drinks cause harm, although the evidence suggests it's connected to weight gain. Ironic when you think people drink these drinks for precisely the opposite reason.

Animal studies on rats have found those given artificial sweeteners gain more weight than rats given an identical diet without artificial sweeteners. The artificial sweeteners are linked to a change in the composition of gut bacteria and the development of glucose intolerance. One theory is that we associate sweetness with calories and when we consume artificial sweeteners our brain "clocks up" the anticipated sweet calories sending out signals to make up for them by overcompensating with more food later on in the day.

When you read the article about the study
, you will see that the recommendation is for more research to be conducted.

Which brings me to my point.

My short stint working for a Government organisation gave me first-hand experience to understand what a slow moving beast it is. Amongst other things I was loosely involved in the removal of sweetened soft drinks from hospital cafes. The tide was shifting and before I left the hospital had scheduled a trial to remove these drinks. Asked why Diet drinks were not also being removed, the response was that there was not enough data to conclude these drinks were harmful.

How much research is enough I wonder?

What can we do?

This one is interesting because the answer has to be to keep at it: Spread the word and encourage your friends and family to not drink the stuff.

Diet drinks were first introduced in 1952, with Tab (the original Diet coke) introduced to the market in 1963. After a ban on cyclamates - the original artificial sweetener used in Tab - was found to be carcinogenic, Coca Cola reformulated with Diet Coke in 1982 and the rest is history, and it wasn't that long ago.

If in our lifetime we have witnessed products being reformulated because research discovered them to be harmful.

I vote we don't wait to find out what else these (at best) totally unnecessary consumable products are.

At worst diet drinks are seriously detrimental to our health and frankly life's too short to wait for (enough) research to tell us this and to wait even longer for the government to catch up and act.

Instinctively I know it so I'm putting it out there for all to read. No research required!

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