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Diet soda may increase risk of stroke, dementia

NBC News Channel

There is some potentially alarming news, if you're one of the millions who drink diet soda.

A number of questions have been raised about the safety of diet sodas over the years. Now, a new study links them to a significantly increased risk of stroke or dementia.

For decades, America has had a drinking habit with diet soda. Tracy Strysky starts her day with one.

“I sometimes go out of my way to work to go pick up some of these diet soda's at a local, um, fast food chain,” Tracy told us. “And/or I get them even the night before, two or three of them.

They are a bubbly energy boost with a reputation for being a healthier alternative to sugary drinks.

“I like the taste of diet soda better and probably because it's no calories,” explained Tracy.

But enthusiasm about the health benefits of diet soda has started to go flat. There’s a new concern about the potential impact of these drinks on the brain.

A provocative study now links diet soda with a higher risk of stroke and dementia. In fact, researchers found that men and women who drank as little as one diet soda a day were at almost 3 times the risk.

This study in conjunction with the bulk of evidence out there is consistent.

We are still seeing an association between artificial sweetened beverages and the risk of stroke and dementia. The risk of stroke seems to be greater, the pathways are likely still vascular pathways. We don't know if it's causal or not and we still need a lot more research to determine the real effects of artificial sweetened beverages on the brain and the heart.

This study is the first to report a link between diet sodas and dementia. And it's sure to fuel the growing debate about the role these drinks should play in a healthy diet.

According to the American Beverage Association, a leading trade group: Low-calorie sweeteners have been proven safe and there is nothing in this research that counters this well-established fact.

But some health experts say it's time to rethink medical advice to switch to diet soda as a healthier choice.

“I would say reach for a bottle of water before you reach for your artificially sweetened beverages,” said Dr. Ralph Sacco of the University of Miami Miller School Of Medicine.

More research is needed to understand exactly why diet soda may be harmful. But water is the one drink all health experts still agree is best.

Reported by Dr. John Torres, NBC News

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