More reasons to break the sweet drink habit

Friday, April 21, 2017

A local first grader was learning about opposites in school — cold? “Hot.”

Up? “Down.”

His next answer provided the wisdom only a child could offer.

Sweet? “Healthy.”

The teacher was looking for “sour,” but there’s growing evidence America’s sweet tooth is doing it harm — even if the sweet isn’t provided by sugar.

No, this is not another anti-high-fructose corn syrup rant.

A new Boston University School of Medicine indicates a correlation between drinking diet soda once a week or less and the likelihood you’ll suffer a stroke or develop dementia.

It was a “correlation” not causation, according to the lead author, Matthew Pase neurologist at the school. And it is certainly not a reason to go back to sugary drinks, which are proven to contribute to obesity, diabetes, poorer memory and smaller overall brain volumes.

But it certainly indicates a need for further study and provides encouragement to wean ourselves and our families off of sweet beverages.

The study tracked, 2,888 people over 45 for stroke and 1,484 people over 60 for dementia over a 10-year period. They were part of a group of the Framingham Heart Study, which has tested participants’ blood since the 1970s.

The new study found that those who reported consuming at least one artificially sweetened drink a day, compared to less than one a week, were 2.96 times as likely to have an ischemic stroke, caused by blood vessel blockage, and 2.89 times as likely to be diagnosed with dementia due to Alzheimer's disease, according to a summary from the American Heart Association.

The sweeteners in the study included saccharin, acesulfame-K and aspartame. Others have been approved since then, including sucralose, neotame and stevia.

The American Beverage Association was quick to defend its products, noting that “low-calorie sweeteners have been proven safe by worldwide government safety authorities as well as hundreds of scientific studies and there is nothing in this research that counters this well-established fact.

“While we respect the mission of these organizations to help prevent conditions like stroke and dementia, the authors of this study acknowledge that their conclusions do not — and cannot — prove cause and effect.”

That may be true, but more of us may find ourselves breaking the diet soda habit and choosing tea — or even plain old water — to quench our thirst instead.

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