Are Diet Sodas Unhealthy for Your Heart?

SodaI was eating lunch reading a report from the American College of Cardiology meetings stating that women who drank two or more diet sodas per day of 12 ounces or more were 29% more likely to have a cardiac event than those who consumed a lower quantity of no more than 3 diet drinks per month. The report was prepared by Ankur Vyas, MD, of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. The 5% of women with the highest consumption of diet beverages in the Women’s Health Initiative also had 26 % elevated all-cause mortality. Cardiac deaths were 52% more likely with two or more diet sodas or other diet drinks per day.

Jeffey Kuvin, MD, vice chair of the program committee for the ACC meeting, called the results “provocative” but not yet compelling. Clearly these results are convincing enough to plan another study with a larger group and stricter design to determine if it is the caffeine, the artificial sweetener or some other constituent causing this increased risk? Could it be that the individuals drinking two or more diet beverages are already practicing a relatively heart unhealthy lifestyle and are overweight, less active, diabetic, hypertensive and or smokers? This all needs to be determined before we condemn diet beverages. Dr. Kurvin pointed out that sugary non diet beverages are well known to cause weight gain, diabetes and eventually coronary artery disease.

What does one drink then? I chose to have an old fashioned unhealthy sugary soda with my heart healthy lunch. While I was sipping that sweet delicious beverage, but feeling extremely guilty about it, my computer sent me a medical alert, “Soda associated with increased heart attack and stroke risk.”. The soda came flying out of my mouth and nose instantly as if had coughed and it splattered everywhere moments before I read the full message closely and noted that they were referring to cocaine not soda.

This study will surely raise questions from my patients in my practice. I will advise them to avoid diet beverages if possible, just like I advise them to avoid sugary beverages in large quantities if possible. Drink water or drink diet beverages in extreme moderation until the data is clear. Moderation would mean no more than 36 ounces per week.

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