Researchers found that older adults who regularly drank artificially sweetened beverages, such as diet soda, were about three times more likely to have a stroke or develop Alzheimer’s disease over 10 years, painting a worrying picture for anyone who regularly enjoys diet soda. The findings may sound alarming, but the research paints a more nuanced picture. The results come from the Framingham Heart Study, a long-term observational study of people living in Framingham, Massachusetts. From , participants were asked questions about their health and diet. Then, over the following 10 years, the researchers tracked the patients’ health, allowing them to cross-reference data and identify associations—including how many people who regularly consumed diet soda developed Alzheimer’s disease. We can’t tell from these results whether drinking diet soda caused Alzheimer’s disease. In this population, it’s possible that people who chose diet sodas were already at greater risk for the disease. For example, type 2 diabetes is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, and people with type 2 diabetes may drink diet soda to limit their sugar intake. If you adjust for the prevalence of diabetes, the diet soda drinkers had no significant increased risk of Alzheimer’s. It’s also important to note that participants were asked about the quality of their diets and lifestyle before the study began, but not in the follow up.
The artificial sweeteners used in diet sodas—and thousands of other processed foods—are anything but sweet. In fact, they can be toxic to the brain. Consuming these sugar substitutes on a regular basis is not a recipe for a healthy memory. Even worse, she started experiencing a host of symptoms—digestive issues, arthritis, forgetfulness, and confusion. One of the most commonly used artificial sweeteners in diet sodas, aspartame is particularly damaging to the brain. For anyone who thinks diet sodas help with weight loss, the reality is that artificial sweeteners can lead to weight gain. Studies of rats fed artificially sweetened foods have found they have slower metabolisms and greater weight gain than those given sugar-sweetened foods—despite the fact that the rats that ate sugary foods consumed more calories than those that ate artificially sweetened foods. Both diabetes and obesity are considered independent risk factors for memory problems and several forms of dementia. A study in Molecules found that six artificial sweeteners aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, neotame, advantame, and acesulfame potassium-k had toxic effects on gut bacteria. Compromised gut bacteria can lead to issues such as leaky gut, a condition in which the lining of the gut becomes excessively permeable. It is critical for any changes in memory or cognitive function to be investigated.
People who drink soda and sugary juices on a regular basis have smaller brains and accelerated signs of brain aging, according to a recent study. In this group, researchers found that people who consumed more than three sodas per week—or more than two sugary drinks of any type soda, fruit juice, and other soft drinks per day—were more likely to have memory problems, a smaller brain volume, and a smaller hippocampus an area of the brain used in learning and memory. Drinking at least one diet soda a day was associated with smaller brain volume, as well. In the second study, published yesterday in the journal Stroke, the researchers followed two different groups of adults for 10 years. Out of nearly 3, adults over age 45, 97 suffered a stroke during that time. The researchers found no correlation between sugary beverage intake and either health condition. Sugar has long been associated with obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, he adds, but fewer studies have been done on its long-term effects on the brain. The studies did not differentiate between types of artificial sweeteners. Previous studies have linked diet sodas to an increased risk of weight gain and stroke, and scientists have hypothesized that artificial sweeteners may affect the body in several different ways—from transforming gut bacteria to tricking the brain into craving more calories.