Does Diet Soda Increase Dementia Risk? New Study says Yes, and Stroke Too.
Most nutrition experts recommend avoiding beverages with artificial sweeteners. First, although these drinks, such as diet soda, are marketed for weight loss, they don’t help people lose weight. In fact, they have been shown to cause weight gain by making the brain crave more sugar. Second, those artificial sweeteners — such as aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose— are chemicals that may be harmful or even carcinogenic. But what about the risk of dementia and stroke? Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine have found a correlation between drinking artificially sweetened beverages and the risks of both dementia and stroke.
Artificially Sweetened Beverages Linked to Dementia and Stroke
Boston University researchers prospectively evaluated the drinking habits of over 4000 healthy participants between 1998 and 2011. They tallied up everything participants drank — including diet soda and sugar-laden soda. Then they calculated the risk of stroke for those over 45 and the risk of dementia if over 65. Their findings, published this week in the journal Stroke, showed a risk of ischemic stroke (caused by blood vessel disease), Alzheimer’s disease, and other dementias that increased with the amount of artificially sweetened soft drinks ingested. Even after correcting the findings for confounding factors such as age, sex, education, caloric intake, diet quality, physical activity and smoking, the diet soda-drinking men and women ended up getting Alzheimer’s disease 2.89 more times and stroke 2.96 more times when compared to those who did not.
What About Beverages Sweetened with Sugar?
Researchers in this study did not find a correlation between sugar-sweetened beverages, like soda and lemonade, with stroke or dementia. But another study published recently in Alzheimer’s and Dementia showed a lower total brain volume in those who drank more than one sugary drink per day. Not only did the sugary drinking participants show brain atrophy based on MRI scans, they also performed worse on memory tests. Both smaller brain volume and poor memory testing are markers for an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.
The bottom line: Drinking artificially sweetened beverages may increase your risk of stroke and dementia. Avoid diet sodas and drinks.
Avoid sweetened drinks too — they are associated with brain shrinkage over time.
Best Drinks for Brain Health
So what should you drink for brain health? We know that good hydration is crucial for optimal brain function. In the Brain Works Kitchen, we sip all day on brain healthy drinks. We drink nut milks, such as almond and cashew milk, coffee (preferably without cream or sugar), black tea, green tea, herbal tea, small amounts of red wine, and lots and lots of water.
Sometimes we even infuse that water with whole food ingredients to make it even more brain healthy and delicious. Our brain healthy drinks are inspired by the ones created by nutrition scientist/cookbook author Rebecca Katz, like her “Spa in a Pitcher” from The Longevity Kitchen. Water infused with thyme, mint, cucumber, lemon, and orange is what Katz calls “art floating in a chilled pitcher.” I call it thirst-quenching, delicious, and just what my brain needs.