PhotoStaying healthy is important at any age, but postmenopausal women may want to steer clear of beverages with artificial sweeteners based on the findings of a new study.

Researchers from the American Heart Association found that drinking diet soda, or any artificially sweetened drink, especially in excess, was associated with an increased risk of stroke for older women.

“Many well-meaning people, especially those who are overweight or obese, drink low-calorie sweetened drinks to cut calories in their diet,” said researcher Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani. “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.”

Staying healthy

To analyze the relationship between diet drinks and risk of stroke and heart disease, the researchers utilized data from the Women’s Health Initiative study, which tracked participants’ health for over a decade.

The study included data responses from over 81,000 postmenopausal women, who reported how often they consumed drinks with artificial sweeteners. The participants did not reveal what artificial sweetener the drinks contained, which, according to Mossavar-Rahmani, makes the researchers unable to discern “which artificial sweeteners may be harmful and which may be harmless.”

The researchers found that drinking artificially sweetened drinks in excess -- or even more than one per week -- increased participants’ likelihood of developing heart disease or having a stroke. The risk doubled for women who were overweight.

Women who consumed two or more artificially sweetened beverages per day were 23 percent more likely to have a stroke, and nearly 30 percent were more likely to develop heart disease. Overall, these women were 16 percent more likely to die from any cause and over 30 percent more likely to have a stroke due to a blood clot.

The researchers hope that these results encourage more women to limit their diet beverage intake, and to choose water whenever possible.

“The American Heart Association suggests water as the best choice for a no-calorie beverage,” said researcher Rachel K. Johnson. “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.”

Potential dangers of artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners have made headlines recently, as health experts continue to heavily research the area.

Researchers continue to flip flop on the issue. There has been speculation about artificial sweeteners’ positive effect on weight loss, while other research has explored how they can actually create more fat. Most recently, researchers found that the sweeteners may be lower in calories, but they may also be toxic to the digestive system.

“This is further evidence that consumption of artificial sweeteners adversely affects gut microbial activity, which can cause a wide range of health issues,” said researcher Ariel Kushmaro.

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