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Diet soda could increase risk for heart attack and stroke

By | Posted - Feb. 9, 2011 at 6:18 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY -- New research out Wednesday suggests drinking a lot of diet soda could increase your risk for a heart attack or stroke.

The study, unveiled at the American Stroke Association's annual conference at Columbia University, looked at more than 2,500 people, all part of the long-term Northern Manhattan Study.

Over more than nine years, participants tracked their soda consumption. 163 of them drank one or more diet sodas per day. Just over 900 drank no soda at all. They also provided information such as their age, sex, ethnic background, smoking history, exercise activity and other factors -- such as caloric intake and family history.

Drinking a ton of diet soda every day will increase your sodium intake, no doubt about it, and that will increase your risk for stroke.

–- Jennifer Merback, American Heart Association in Utah

The research didn't determine cause and effect, just the association. Diet soda drinkers had a 61 percent higher risk for a cardiovascular event such as stroke or heart attack than the non-soda drinkers.

"Those people who took in larger amounts of sodium double their risk for stroke, so it's very important for we as Americans to limit our intake of sodium," Maria Sweeten Solic, Executive Director of the Utah Division of the American Heart Association.

Jennifer Merback, Communications and Marketing Director for the Association in Utah, says sodium content could be one impact from drinking diet soda -- and regular soda, too.

"Drinking a ton of diet soda every day will increase your sodium intake, no doubt about it, and that will increase your risk for stroke," Merback said.

While many diet sodas had similar sodium content to their regular soda counterparts, some had more, and both obviously have more sodium than one is going to get from drinking only water.

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Researchers have previously linked drinking regular or diet soda to diabetes and metabolic syndrome, a factor believed to lead to diabetes.

Sodium intake has long been linked to risk for cardiovascular disease, whether it's ingested in food or drink. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 1.500 milligrams of sodium daily.

But some also theorize there could be other factors -- for example, if someone is drinking diet soda to compensate for other bad habits in their diet, which is something the researchers did not study.

Also, Solic noted that the study was narrow in scope. "This study simply looks at sodium," she said. "There may be other studies out there that address artificial sweeteners or other ingredients in soda; however, this study only looks at the sodium content of diet sodas."

Merback says moderation is a good idea with diet soda as with anything else, and she's sure more research will be done.

We look at this as one study, but it's not definitive.

–- Jennifer Merback, American Heart Association in Utah

"The American Heart Association has actually said that we will continue to review the science in diet soda consumption, and refine our policy strategies as needed," Merback said. "We look at this as one study, but it's not definitive."

She points out sodium is popping up in lots of places where people may not expect to find it.

"There's sodium in lots of things, especially all the processed food that we consume. For example, say you're having a frozen entree. Check the sodium content beforehand because there might be more than you think, and you need to be careful with that."

"The (bottom line) really is that sodium really is going to increase the risk of stroke," Solic said. "Diet sodas have a lot of sodium in them. Don't kick it out of your diet, but use moderation in all things."

KSL spoke with some University of Utah students stopped a soda machine on campus. One student, Margaret, acknowledged that though she knows drinking diet soda isn't healthy, she isn't very diligent about removing it from her diet.

"I do care about health issues and I do admit that diet sodas are not good for me, so I try to limit my intake of them," she said. "It's like anything: There are a lot of things that are not healthy for me that I probably eat, so I try hard to be healthy, but I have a few vices."


Story compiled with contributions from Becky Bruce and Keith McCord.


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