Since the early days of Tab cola, discerning people have cast aspersions on the benefits of choosing diet sodas to improve health. Now, time and science may have proven these concerned individuals correct. A recent study implies a connection between regular ingestion of diet colas with increased risks for dementia and stroke.
Considering that strokes occur every 40 seconds in the U.S.,  the lack of previous studies on the health risks of aspartame should spur further investigation. However, the correlation between diet cola intake, dementia and stroke hasn’t gained much scientific attention to date. Perhaps someday soon, medical professionals will ask patients about their diet soda consumption as regularly as they inquire about cigarette smoking and alcohol use.
Diet Drinks and Dementia: What the Boston University Study Found
The study conducted by scientists at the Boston University School of Medicine followed over 4,000 adults across a multiyear period. During this time, study participants reported their dietary intake over the past 12 months at specified intervals. The study excluded individuals under the age of 45 with neurological disease when evaluating stroke risk and also omitted those under age 60 for purposes of assessing the chances of developing dementia.
Researchers made allowances for competing lifestyle choices, such as overall caloric intake and tobacco use frequency . They also adjusted statistics accordingly for factors such as age, gender and socioeconomic status. They utilized the Dietary Guidelines Adherence Index when making these adjustments.
Even when factors like smoking and lack of physical exercise were taken into account, scientists found that participants who consumed as little as one diet cola daily tripled their stroke risk with almost the same rate of increase in dementia risk. Their findings validate the suspicions of those who have long provided anecdotal evidence of a link between aspartame consumption and increased chances of developing diseases as diverse as IBS and certain forms of cancer.
To date, few other studies examine the long-term health effects of aspartame consumption. However, the original producer of aspartame, Monsanto, doesn’t have the best track record of valuing public health above corporate profits.
Indeed, Monsanto produced sufficient evidence back in 1981 to convince the European Scientific Committee on Food the sweetener was safe to consume . However, the measures many European countries have now passed banning genetically modified foods makes some people wonder if aspartame would pass muster today.
Are All Artificial Sweeteners Bad?
The Boston University study centered on diet colas containing aspartame, but could other artificial sweeteners prove equally troublesome? Leading scientists disagree, but if history serves as any precedent, quite possibly.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University discovered the first artificial sweetener, saccharine, way back in 1879 . Despite a strong start as a sweetening agent in canned foods, officials banned saccharine as a food additive by 1912. The ban hardly dented public demand for delectable sweet treats that didn’t lead to a need to invest in larger pants sizes.
Aspartame remained unknown before 1965, but given the flower-power generations obsession with wafer-thin physiques like Twiggy’s, it received FDA approval just in time for the eating disorder-plagued society of the 1980s. Even though governmental entities began receiving complaints about possible side effects of aspartame-containing products just three years later, officials dismissed such reports as posing only mild symptoms . After all, everyone grows nauseous and dizzy occasionally, so why did all fingers point toward a can of diet pop?
Today, artificial sweeteners like sucralose, found in some diet soft drinks as an alternative fake sugar agent, and xylitol, found in sugarless gum, share shelf space with aspartame products . Consumers have reported gastrointestinal distress from the consumption of sucralose and xylitol, but science to date has yet to disprove or support such allegations. Other artificial sweeteners have raised additional consumer concerns.
How Can Exposed Individuals Reverse the Damage?
Fortunately, many individuals in danger of developing stroke or dementia can slash their risks by implementing simple lifestyle changes. In fact, up to 35 percent of dementia cases can be delayed or even avoided altogether . One such change must involve reducing or eliminating diet soft drinks. Since scant evidence, if any, confirms that some artificial sweeteners are safe, people should cut out artificially sweetened beverages entirely to reduce risk.
Does that mean consumers should switch to the original sugary soda concoctions? Decidedly not. Research indicates that children who drink even one pop per day stand a 55 percent greater chance of becoming obese .
Nearly 40 percent of American adults suffer from obesity, which greatly increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, gout, stroke and heart disease . Sadly, overweight kids often become obese adults.
In addition to eliminating soft drinks, individuals can decrease their stroke risk by maintaining a healthy body weight, reducing or eliminating meat, especially red meat, from their diets and engaging in moderate physical exercise most days of the week.
Luckily, even though many people fear inheriting dementia from their parents, medical science indicates that the majority of patients did not inherit the disease . However, those whose parents developed the condition earlier than age 60 should take extra precautions to cut their risks.
Choosing Healthier Beverages
Given the way mainstream markets clog shelf space with a mix of sugary and diet beverages, how can consumers choose safer thirst-quenchers? Sticking with water seems an obvious move, but most everyone craves a bit of flavor variety.
Many natural herbal teas, such as chamomile, have a mildly sweet flavor. Those craving an extra sweetness boost can add a dollop of pure honey. Honey serves as a natural anti-microbial and anti-fungal agent and gently soothes inflamed throat tissue when colds strike .
Linden flowers add a light, citrus-like sweetness to beverages when used in moderation. Linden flower also promotes restful sleep, so consider sipping on a cuppa before bedtime .
When baking sugar-free cookies and cakes, many reach for Stevia, although the chemical processing the leaves undergo cast doubt on how natural and safe the extract really is. However, carrots and beets make for excellent sugar substitutes and also add moistness to such treats.
Ditching Diet Drinks for Good
Many people can’t imagine making it through the day without a soda or two. However, the caffeine boosts these drinks provide hardly supersede the increased risk of developing dementia or suffering strokes. For optimal health, stick to water and herbal teas and take a walk around the block when craving a natural energy boost.