While the serious health impact of sugary drinks like sodas and fruit juices has been recognized for some time, many people think that replacing these unhealthy drinks with artificially sweetened sodas is a safe and healthy option. Unfortunately, this is simply not true, as was once again highlighted recently in a study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke.
For their study, researchers examined data collected on 2,888 people over the age of 45, and 1,484 adults older than 60, from the town of Framingham, Massachusetts. The information had been gathered for a study by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and Boston University, called the Framingham Heart Study.
The participants were divided into two groups: The adults over the age of 45 were studied to determine the risk of stroke, since strokes rarely strike at a younger age than 45, and the seniors over the age of 60 were studied to assess risk of dementia, since this debilitating condition is rare in people younger than 60.
The researchers calculated how many artificially sweetened and sugary beverages each person consumed between 1991 and 2001, and then measured that information against the number of people in each group who went on to develop dementia or have a stroke in the following decade.
Interestingly, though previous studies have clearly linked the consumption of sugary drinks to serious adverse health effects including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, heart failure, obesity and stroke, this particular study found no such correlation. It did determine, however, that participants in each group who drank an average of one artificially sweetened drink a day were nearly three times as likely to have suffered a stroke, and were also nearly three times as likely to have developed dementia.
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Of course, the American Beverage Association has dismissed the study out of hand, claiming that the World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have conducted extensive research into the matter and have determined that artificial sweeteners are safe for human consumption.
Well, let’s take a closer look at the “science” supporting the safety of such sweeteners by considering a study published in the journal PLoS ONE.
After a thorough meta-analysis of 31 major studies published between 1978 and 2014, a group of scientists from the University of Sydney concluded that almost all of these studies were nothing more than propaganda bought and paid for by the artificial sweetener industry itself. They determined that industry-funded studies were mysteriously 17 times more likely to determine that sweeteners were safe than impartial, independent studies.
“It’s alarming to see how much power the artificial sweetener industry has over the results of its funded research, with not only the data but also the conclusions of these studies emphasizing artificial sweeteners’ positive effects while neglecting mention of any drawbacks,” said Professor Lisa Bero, one of the study’s authors, and the head of the Charles Perkins Center’s bias node at the University of Sydney.
Alarmingly, the study also determined that close to half of these studies failed to disclose conflicts of interest, and that a third failed to disclose where their funding had come from. And the studies where there was a direct conflict of interest were seven times more likely to show positive outcomes than impartial studies.
While switching sugary drinks for diet sodas is clearly not a healthy option, there are many things you can do to improve your health overall, and directly reduce your risk of a stroke. Harvard Women’s Health Watch lists several things each of us can do to prevent a stroke, including:
Lower blood pressure: High blood pressure is one of the greatest risk factors for stroke. Reduce it by ensuring you have no more than half a teaspoon of salt a day; avoid high-cholesterol, processed foods like burgers and cheese; ensure you eat four to five cups of organic, non-GMO fruits and veggies each day; get daily exercise, and quit smoking. Exercise reduces stroke risk in its own right, and since smoking thickens the blood and increases plaque buildup in the arteries, quitting is one of the surest ways to improve your health.
Lose weight: Obesity leads to complications like diabetes and high blood pressure, and losing just 10 pounds can make all the difference to reducing your stroke risk.
Drink in moderation: Drinking one alcoholic drink a day has been found to reduce the risk of a stroke – any more than that will increase risk though, so don’t overdo it. Red wine is your best option since it contains resveratrol which protects heart and brain health.