Diet Soda Associated with Increase in Dementia and Stroke, Study Finds

Female physician at symposium

Rhonna Shatz, DO, following a presentation at an educational symposium.

Just when you thought there were no more dietary pitfalls to worry about, a study published in the journal Stroke has found an association between artificially sweetened soft drinks and an increased risk of ischemic stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and non-Alzheimer’s dementia. The study tracked more than 4,000 middle-aged adults – all participants in the Framingham Heart Study — over a 10-year period.

Rhonna Shatz, DO, director of the Memory Disorders Center at the University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute, finds the study intriguing. Here is her response:

“The study identifies correlations between diet soda consumption and a slightly increased risk for dementia and less so with stroke,” she says. “The correlations initially identified were lowered when they factored in diabetes; those who drank diet sodas were more likely to be diabetics, and this could explain the increased risk. Correlative data still does not identify cause and effect, so the jury is still out on this.

“Other large studies have found data both conflicting and in agreement with this study. The mechanism underlying the observation is still elusive as well.

“The authors propose evidence that artificial sweeteners alter gut microbiota, and this might provide some insight. There is a lot of converging data across neurodegenerative diseases that diet alters bacteria in the gut, and the change in bacteria populations will affect local immune system function.

“Some bacteria increase inflammation, and this signal may be picked up by vagal nerves, which innervate the gut and then send signals to the central nervous system. Inflammation in general is considered an increased risk factor for neurodegenerative dementias and stroke, and the mechanism for any diet-related phenomenon may be through this common pathway.

“In short, this is an intriguing finding that now needs more fine-tuned prospective investigation and more targeted research directed at mechanism.”

In the meantime, Shatz says, “Drink water.”

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