Diet sodas linked to strokes, suggests new study

2011 has not been off to the most effervescent start for the soft drink industry. The latest fizzle comes by way of a recent study presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference, suggesting that daily diet soda drinkers have at least a 60 percent increased risk of having a stroke or heart attack compared with non-soda drinkers.

The study, which took into account lifestyle factors including cigarette smoking, physical activity, diet and alcohol consumption, led the team of researchers from the University of Miami to conclude that, “diet soda is not an optimal substitute for sugar-sweetened beverages, and may be associated with a greater risk of stroke.”

More than 2,500 people who participated in the study were asked about their soft drink intake upon entering the program. Of 559 participants’ cardiovascular incidents that occurred between 1993 to 2001, those who had claimed to drink diet sodas daily were 60 percent more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than those who did not.

Some critics, including Dr. Maureen Storey, senior vice president of science policy for the American Beverage Association, suggest the study did not properly make a link between diet soda drinkers and increased risk of stroke and heart disease.

Aspartame, the common artificial sweetener in diet sodas has been mired in controversy with long-time claims that it leads to cancer, infertility, migraine headaches, tinnitus and dozens of other health problems.

In 2007, British retailer Sainsbury’s removed aspartame from its private label products and in 2010 British Food Standards Agency launched an investigation into aspartame in response to claims associated with side-effects from consuming the product.

Soft drinks have come under attack recently with new claims that the caramel color added to cola soft drinks has been linked to several types of cancer in lab animals, and a consumer advocacy group is seeking warning labels on sodas that contain dangerous levels of high fructose corn syrup.

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