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Diet Soda And Your Risk For Heart Attack Or Stroke

It tastes sweet. It’s pleasurably fizzy. And free of calories. What’s more, the FDA says NutraSweet (aspartame) is safe. So what’s not to like about diet soft drinks?

A bunch. The ongoing debate about the healthiness of diet soft drinks reminds me of the old adage, “If something sounds to be true, it probably is.”

Artificially-sweetened “diet” drinks get touted as healthy alternatives to sugary drinks because they contain no calories or carbohydrates. On paper it seems plausible to think they are inert, no more dangerous than water. The Coca-Cola Company sublimely strengthens this assertion by putting a big red heart on Diet Coke cans.

But diet-cola news (Los Angeles Times) presented at the International Stroke Conference 2011 suggests otherwise. This widely-publicized observational study of 2,500 older patients (average age=69) from New York showed that drinking diet soda on a daily basis increased the risk of having a heart attack or stroke by 61 percent. The abstract — not a peer-reviewed study — stated that this association persisted after controlling for other pertinent variables.

Sure, this is only a look back at 559 patients who had a vascular event. The study asserts only an association, not that diet colas cause heart attacks and strokes. That’s a big difference.

That said, however, I don’t view these results as trivial either. This trial builds on the results of prior studies of diet drinks which strongly suggest that despite their lack of calories, diet drinks don’t prevent obesity. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

Artificial Sweeteners And Telling Pregnant Women “In Moderation”

I can already tell that this pregnancy is different from my first. When I was pregnant with Little Isis, I drank no caffeine and took no over-the-counter medication. I remember having a few headaches and Mr. Isis fighting with me to take a headache pill. I would then proclaim dramatically, “But I can’t! What if it hurts the baby?!”

This morning, now pregnant with my second, I washed down a Zyrtec and two Tylenol with a cup of coffee. The little bugger is going to have to grow up with Little Isis. He might as well start building up his tolerance to exogenous substances at some point. I figure, now that its got a closed neural tube and a beating heart, we might as well begin.

Still, you can’t blame a pregnant woman for being a bit neurotic. The feeling that one is solely responsible for the well-being of a developing creature, combined with often contradictory advice, is enough to make anyone nuts. Most online advice is completely and utterly useless. Take this answer from Russell Turk, M.D. on the popular pregnancy website BabyCenter in response to the common question, “Is it safe to drink diet soda during pregnancy?” He answers:

Diet sodas often contain both caffeine and an artificial sweetener. There are several types of artificial sweeteners you may see on nutrition labels:

Aspartame (NutraSweet): Seems to be okay when consumed in moderation (the amount found in one or two 12-ounce servings of soda per day).

Saccharin (Sweet’n Low): Saccharin was found to cause birth defects in laboratory rats when consumed in very high amounts. Because its safety in smaller amounts is hard to prove, I would advise avoiding it.

Sucralose (Splenda): This relatively new sweetener, a modified form of regular table sugar, appears to be safe. But because it hasn’t been extensively studied, it’s best used in moderation.

It’s generally bad advice and leaves one wondering: “What is moderation? Will one soda hurt my baby? Will two sodas hurt my baby? How about three?” The default answer when we don’t know seems to be to tell women to do things in “moderation.” This places the sole responsibility on her to know what moderation means, and allows her to feel the guilt if something goes wrong. I think that these imprecise answers leave many women feeling helpless and afraid. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Brain Confounds Everything*

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