Diet drinks raise risk of dying young and stroke ‘by nearly a third’

Drinking just two cans of sugar-free diet drinks a day increases your chance of heart attack or stroke by a THIRD

  • A major study of 80,000 women over 50 tracked their drinking over 12 years
  • Risk of heart disease was 29% higher and death by any cause 16% higher
  • Risks rose for obese or African-American women with no diabetes history
  • It adds to controversy around artificial sweeteners as a healthy sugar alternative 

Two cans of sugar-free fizzy drinks per day could increase a woman’s risk of a heart attack or stroke by almost a third, according to a study.

The major study of over 80,000 women is one of the first times the risk of specific types of stroke in older women who drink diet drinks has been studied. 

Women who drank the fizz regularly are 31 per cent more likely to have a stroke caused by a blood clot, the research found.

And they are 29 per cent more likely to develop heart disease and 16 per cent more likely to die, when compared to women who rarely drank them.

The research did not record which drinks women had, so don’t know which specific artificial sweeteners are so damaging to their health, nor why.

Two cans of sugar-free fizzy drinks could increase the risk of an early death and a stroke by almost a third, according to a study of over 80,000 women over the age of 50. Diet Coke was not named in the study

The risks were particularly high for certain women, it found including those who are already obese.

This could be unwelcome news for those who use the diet drinks as a healthier alternative to sugar. 

Health officials have admitted it’s a challenge to make recommendations on ingredients which science have yet to find clear understandings of. 

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Dr Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani, lead author of the study by the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, said: ‘Many well-meaning people, especially those who are overweight or obese, drink low-calorie sweetened drinks to cut calories in their diet.

‘Our research and other observational studies have shown that artificially sweetened beverages may not be harmless and high consumption is associated with a higher risk of stroke and heart disease.’

The research, published in the journal Stroke, included data from 81,714 women who were aged 50 to 79 at the start of the study between 1993 and 1998.

They were tracked for an average of 12 years.

At their three-year evaluation, the women reported how often in the previous three months they had consumed diet drinks such as low calorie, artificially sweetened colas, sodas and fruit drinks. 

The results were obtained after adjusting for various risk factors such as age, high blood pressure, and smoking. 

Researchers found that, among older women, drinking multiple diet drinks daily was associated with an increase in the risk of a stroke caused by a blocked artery, especially small arteries.   

The analysis then looked at women with no history of heart disease and diabetes, which are key risk factors for stroke. 

The risks rose dramatically if those women were obese or African-American.


In an era of obesity and diabetes, there is more focus on sweeteners and sugar alternatives than ever before. But some in the scientific community say the jury is still out on the effects of sweeteners and more research is needed.


A study published in April this year from the Medical College of Wisconsin and Marquette University linked artificial sweeteners to obesity and diabetes, claiming sweeteners change how the body processes fat and uses energy.

Researchers fed groups of rats diets high in sugar or artificial sweeteners including aspartame and acesulfame potassium. After three weeks, blood samples showed significant differences in concentrations of biochemicals, fats and amino acids.  


Leading gut microbiome expert Professor Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College, has warned that if you give animals lots of sweeteners, you get a reduction in diversity of the microbes and they produce abnormal chemicals – different metabolic signals which have been shown to be more likely to give you diabetes and make you put on weight.

He adds that while there’s no hard evidence yet in humans, he has seen enough to make him wary of regularly eating these additives.


Consuming a can a day of low-or no-sugar soft drink is associated with a much higher risk of having a stroke or developing dementia, researchers claimed last year.

A Boston University study found that people who glugged diet drinks daily were almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia when compared to those who did not.

However, the researchers were quick to point out that these findings, which appear separately in the journals Alzheimer’s & Dementia and Stroke, demonstrated correlation but not cause-and-effect.


Dr Mossavar-Rahmani said: ‘Women who, at the onset of our study, didn’t have any heart disease or diabetes and were obese, were twice as likely to have a clot-based or ischemic stroke.’

African-American women without a previous history of heart or diabetes were about four times as likely to have a clot-based stroke.

One serving of diet drink was regarded as 355ml – a regular sized can – but the study did not look at the individual artificial sweeteners the drinks contained.

Dr Mossaver-Rahmani, an associate professor of clinical epidemiology and population health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York said: ‘We don’t know specifically what types of artificially sweetened beverages they were consuming, so we don’t know which artificial sweeteners may be harmful and which may be harmless.’

The authors stressed that the study found a link but could not prove diet drinks directly cause stroke and heart problems. 

They also said that their findings may not apply to men or younger women. 

The American Heart Association has recently published an advisory note which found there was inadequate evidence to conclude whether low-calorie sweetened beverages do or do not affect the risk of heart disease and stroke.

But it states that water is the best choice for a no-calorie drink. 

Dr Rachel Johnson, from the University of Vermont said: ‘Unfortunately, current research simply does not provide enough evidence to distinguish between the effects of different low-calorie sweeteners on heart and brain health.

‘This study adds to the evidence that limiting use of diet beverages is the most prudent thing to do for your health. 

‘However, for some adults, diet drinks with low calorie sweeteners may be helpful as they transition to adopting water as their primary drink.

‘Since long-term clinical trial data are not available on the effects of low-calorie sweetened drinks and cardiovascular health, given their lack of nutritional value, it may be prudent to limit their prolonged use.’

Experts have previously associated sweeteners, which include aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose, to diabetes, weight gain and cancer.

But industry bodies have hit back in light of the fact regulatory bodies have consistently confirmed their safety.

People in the soft drinks industry hit back against the research, saying it does not prove a cause-and-effect link.

British Soft Drinks Association’s Gavin Partington said: ‘This study claims association between diet drinks and increased risk of stroke, but does not provide evidence of cause.

‘According to all leading health authorities in the world, including the European Food Safety Authority, low- and no-calorie sweeteners are safe. 

‘In March 2017, the UK Government and Public Health England publicly endorsed the use of low-calorie sweeteners as a safe alternative to reduce sugar in food and drink and help people manage their weight.’ 

Nutritionist Angela Dowden told MailOnline: ‘They’ve been shown to be completely safe for human consumption. The internet is full of scare stories that aspartame is toxic for example.

‘But to produce lower calories treats that won’t harm your teeth or give unhealthy spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels, sweeteners are really useful.’ 

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