Here are the facts on diet soda.

Do Diet Sodas Pose a Stroke Risk?

In the battle to lose weight, many people switch to diet sodas. But while they cut calories they might also raise the risk of stroke or dementia, a new study suggests.

Just one artificially sweetened drink a day seems to increase those chances nearly threefold, compared with drinking less than one a week, the researchers said.

Still, only a few people in the study developed dementia or had a stroke, so the absolute risk remains small, the researchers added.

Also, “We can’t establish cause and effect, but our results suggest that we look more closely at artificially sweetened beverages to see how they are affecting our bodies and what affect they might have on different diseases,” said lead researcher Matthew Pase.

He’s a senior fellow in the department of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine.
Exactly why diet drinks might be linked to these conditions isn’t known, Pase added.

Some studies have shown that diet soda is associated with vascular disease, which might have effects in the brain. Other research has found an association between artificially sweetened drinks and weight gain, which might increase the risk for stroke and dementia, the researchers said.

Yet another study showed that artificial sweeteners alter bacteria in the gut, which might also have a negative effect, Pase said.

“People should be cautious about over-consuming diet drinks,” he said. “Just because they say ‘diet’ doesn’t mean they’re a healthy alternative to sugary drinks.”

The findings were published April 20 in the journal Stroke.

One stroke expert said the findings are far from definitive.

“I don’t think we have the evidence to tell people to stop drinking artificially sweetened beverages, but I don’t think we have the evidence to tell people that switching to drinking them will improve their brain health,” said Hannah Gardener. She’s an assistant scientist in the department of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Switching to sugar-sweetened drinks, however, isn’t a healthy option, she said.

“The evidence is clear that sugar-sweetened beverages are unhealthy for our heart and unhealthy for our brain,” said Gardener, who co-wrote an editorial that accompanied the study.

In the study, Pase and his colleagues collected data on stroke from among nearly 2,900 men and women over age 45 who took part in the Framingham Heart Study. For the dementia part of the study, they followed nearly 1,500 people over age 60 in the Framingham group.

Three times over seven years, the researchers reviewed what people were drinking. Participants reported their eating and drinking habits using food frequency questionnaires.

Pase’s team followed the participants for 10 years, to see who had a stroke or developed dementia.  The researchers found that 3 percent of the participants had suffered a stroke and 5 percent had developed dementia, most of which were cases of Alzheimer’s disease.

The investigators adjusted their findings for risk factors such as age, sex, how much participants ate, education, diabetes and a genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Robert Rankin, president of the Calorie Control Council, which represents makers of low-calorie foods and drinks, took issue with the findings.

“Rather than focusing on results from observational studies, which cannot establish cause and effect, individuals should talk to their health care team to address known risks for stroke and dementia,” he said.

“Beverages are an important consideration, and diet beverages provide safe, reduced calorie options that people can enjoy while working towards achieving their healthy lifestyle goals,” Rankin added.  The American Beverage Association concurred.

“Low-calorie sweeteners have been proven safe by worldwide government safety authorities as well as hundreds of scientific studies, and there is nothing in this research that counters this well-established fact,” the association said in a statement.

“The FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration], World Health Organization, European Food Safety Authority and others have extensively reviewed low-calorie sweeteners and have all reached the same conclusion they are safe for consumption,” the association added.

Heather Snyder, senior director of medical and scientific operations at the Alzheimer’s Association, said this study adds to a growing body of science that shows the importance of diet for the brain.
A healthy diet is one that’s good for your heart and includes a lot of fruits, vegetables and whole grains as well as fish and poultry, but is low in salt, sugar, red meat and saturated fats. “A heart healthy diet is also good for your brain,” she said.

Snyder and Gardener both agree that to quench your thirst, the best choice is water. “The evidence is clear that drinking water is healthy,” Gardener said.

Copyright © 2017 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Drink up!!!

Study: A Little Alcohol Each Day May Cut Stroke Risk

Posted by Robert Preidt, HealthDay Reporter

Light or moderate drinking may reduce the risk of one type of stroke but not another, while heavy drinking increases the risk of both types, a new study suggests.

A research team from England and Sweden reviewed 25 studies as well as national data from Sweden. The investigators reported that consumption of up to two drinks a day was associated with a lower risk of ischemic stroke (blocked blood flow to the brain), but appeared to have no effect on the risk of bleeding (hemorrhagic) stroke.

About 87 percent of strokes are ischemic strokes, while the other 13 percent are hemorrhagic.

High-to-heavy drinking (two to more than four drinks a day) was associated with an added risk of both types of stroke, according to the findings published online in the journal BMC Medicine.

“Our results showed that heavy drinkers were about 1.6 times more likely to suffer from intracerebral hemorrhage and 1.8 times more likely to suffer from subarachnoid hemorrhage. The association between heavy alcohol consumption and these two types of stroke was stronger than that for ischemic stroke,” lead author Susanna Larsson said in a journal news release. She is an associate professor of epidemiology at Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

The differences between alcohol consumption and type of stroke may be due to the way alcohol affects the body, the study authors noted.

“Previous research has found an association between alcohol consumption and lower levels of fibrinogen—a protein in the body which helps the formation of blood clots,” Larsson said.

“While this may explain the association between light-to-moderate alcohol consumption and lower ischemic stroke risk, the adverse effect of alcohol consumption on blood pressure—a major risk factor for stroke—may increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke and outweigh any potential benefit,” she added.

Although the researchers found an association between alcohol and stroke risk, the study does not prove cause and effect. The researchers said factors other than alcohol use may have affected the results.

Copyright © 2016 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Southern Diet” Strongly Linked To Heart Disease

By Alice G. Walton
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

A new study finds that people who eat a traditionally Southern diet, high in fried and fatty foods, are at higher risk for heart disease. Although this may sound like it falls under the category of “not surprising,” the study is important, since it gives more scientific backing to what would by now seem obvious. It may also propel people who are devoted to the unhealthy, if delicious, way of life into a healthier, more heart-friendly one. But it may not be so easy. The lingering question is how to make diet-related suggestions that people can actually put into effect.

The researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham looked at data from over 17,000 Caucasian and African-American people over the age of 45 who had never suffered from heart disease. They asked the participants, who lived in regions throughout the country, to fill out food frequency questionnaires; all participants also had physical exams. The team touched base with the participants periodically over the next six years to see whether any had developed heart disease.

What emerged in the analysis of eating habits was five distinct patterns:

    • The Southern pattern: Fried foods, fatty foods, added fats, eggs, processed meats, such as bacon and ham, organ meats (e.g. liver), and sugary drinks
    • The Convenience pattern: Easy-to-fix foods like pasta dishes, Mexican food, Chinese food, and pizza.
    • The Plant-Based pattern: High in fruits and vegetables, cereals, beans, yogurt, poultry and fish.
    • The Sweets pattern: Foods with more added sugars, desserts, chocolate, candy, and sweetened breakfast foods.
    • The Alcohol/Salads: Characterized by beer, wine, liquor, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes and salad dressings.

And here are the significant results: People who reported high adherence to a Southern style diet had a 56% increased risk of developing coronary heart disease than people who ate it the least. And this was true even when the team accounted for variables like, age, sex, race, education, household income, region, energy, smoking, and physical activity. Southern diet eaters were also more likely to have hypertension, dyslipidemia (dysregulation of blood fats), and diabetes, but again, even when these variables were taken out, the association between a Southern diet and heart disease still stood.

It’s worth mentioning who the average Southern-diet consumer was: He tended to be male, over the age of 65, African-American, a non-high school graduate, living on an income less than $20,000/year, and be a resident of the “stroke belt,” including North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana. The geographic element isn’t surprising, but the fact that the average Southern diet consumer was also of lower socioeconomic status and older may mean they don’t feel they have a lot of other alternatives regarding food choice.

Still, the connection was present in people of all socioeconomic (SES ) classes, so there’s clearly a link worth paying attention to – and there are several likely mechanisms to explain it. The Southern diet is typically high in processed meats, which are high in salt and in nitrates, which are in turn linked to heart risk. The high sugar content of the diet may also lead to negative effects, like insulin resistance and inflammation. Finally, a potentially high trans fats intake could also make one more prone to heart disease.

It’s hard to convince people to change diet habits that have been with them for a lifetime, and not all suggestions are useful. One health expert, in response to the study, suggested that “one might encourage Southern food eaters to opt for oven-fried nut-crusted chicken. Or New York-style collard greens simmered with extra virgin olive oil, tomatoes, garlic and organic vegetable stock.” Perhaps the stroke belt’s upper echelon can take this advice, but it seems unlikely that advice like this would be useful to someone whose income is less than $20,000/year, as were many of the participants in the study who were at the highest risk.

Smaller and more feasible changes might have a greater effect. ”Regardless of your gender, race, or where you live, if you frequently eat a Southern-style diet you should be aware of your risk of heart disease and try to make some gradual changes to your diet,” said study author James M. Shikany. “Try cutting down the number of times you eat fried foods or processed meats from every day to three days a week as a start, and try substituting baked or grilled chicken or vegetable-based foods.” For most people eating any kind of less-than-ideal diet, Southern or not, the smallest changes are usually the place to start.

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