One major study released earlier this year in the prestigious medical journal BMJ revealed alarming levels of risks associated with the consumption of diet soda. The low-calory beverage is popular with persons suffering from obesity and heart conditions, and is often advertised as a healthier alternative to more conventional drinks. The latest study casts doubt on these claims, joining a long line of research that indicates the heightened risks of artificial sweeteners.
Since the 1980s, several sugar-free products with tastes similar to traditional soda have been popularized by major soft drink conglomerates. The companies often claim that the adverse effects of theses alternative (‘diet’) products are negligible or nonexistent, hence making them safer for people with higher-than-average risks of cardiovascular attacks and drastic weight gain.
These assumptions and the popular image of diet drinks as a harmless substitute have been strongly challenged by a growing body of research since the 2000s. As early as 2011, a major cardiovascular health project that monitored over 2,500 volunteers for nine years concluded that daily consumption of diet soda increased both the occurrence and mortality risks of a heart attack or a stroke by up to 48 %. The researchers found no correlation between the consumption of regular soda and heart conditions.
These results have been backed by a multitude of studies ever since. A much more detailed study released in 2019 found that the daily intake of a regular diet coke serving greatly impacted the cardiovascular health of the 81,714 older women examined. Higher consumption of diet soda has similarly been shown to be linked to as much as three times higher risks of dementia and stroke, compared to weekly intakes.
Nonetheless, more large-scale will have to conducted in order to produce conclusive evidence of these correlations. Many of the studies conducted in the 2010s involved small samples of specific demographics, and all the relevant factors can never be eliminated in such observational studies. There is a growing consensus, however, that artificially-sweetened diet drinks are much more dangerous for heart health than popular notions – carefully cultivated by sustained advertisement – would suggest. Indeed, low-calory and sugar-free drinks do not offer a safe alternative to traditional beverages, and many researchers suggest avoiding all sweetened drinks altogether.
The BMJ study released this week adds further evidence to these analyses. It found that over the course of nine years, the regular consumption of as little as 100 ml of diet soda resulted in a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and health events among the 103,388 French participants examined. In a first, the study took a deeper examination of the specific risk factors involved in the process, finding clear links between particular chemicals found in artificial sweeteners and corresponding cardiovascular health risks. All in all, the piling evidence will continue to make it harder and harder to present dietary drinks as a safer alternative to the more widely available and affordable beverages.