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Stroke In A Can? New Study Has Some Pretty Dire Findings About Soft Drinks

Bad news for anyone who downs diet drinks, with new research suggesting that two or more of these beverages a day could increase their risk of stroke, heart disease, and early death.

A study of more than 80,000 women found that drinking two or more diet drinks increased the risk of stroke by 23 percent, when compared with women who drank diet drinks less than once a week or not at all.

Artificially sweetened drinks included fruit-based diet drinks as well as fizzy ones.

The diet-drinkers were also 29 percent more likely to develop heart disease and 16 percent more likely to die from any cause, according to the study published in Stroke -- a journal produced by the American Heart Association.

Researchers tracked 81,714 post-menopausal women (aged 50 to 79 at the start of the study) for an average of 12 years.

The study showed that obesity played a role, too, as those who drank two or more diet drinks a day and were also obese had more than double the stroke risk.

"Our research and other observational studies have shown that artificially sweetened beverages may not be harmless and high consumption is associated with a higher risk of stroke and heart disease," researchers said.

The participants' lifestyles and health outcomes were tracked after the initial inquiry into how often they consumed diet drinks.

"Many well-meaning people, especially those who are overweight or obese, drink low-calorie sweetened drinks to cut calories in their diet," lead author of the study Dr Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani told CNN.

The risks were highest for women with no history of heart disease or diabetes and women who were obese or African-American.

READ MORE: What's The Actual Deal With Those Diet Teas?

READ MORE: Coke Zero To Vanish From Australian Shelves

"What is it about these diet drinks? Is it something about the sweeteners? Are they doing something to our gut health and metabolism? These are questions we need answered," Mossavar-Rahmani said.

While the results do not suggest that diet drinks directly cause strokes, researchers said the association raises alarms about how artificial sweeteners might be affecting the body.

“These findings show that we shouldn’t assume [diet drinks] are harmless when you consume them at high levels,” she said.

In a 2017 study, published in the same journal, researchers monitored more than 4,000 people over 45 who had filled out food-frequency questionnaires and had periodic health examinations between 1991 and 2001.

The scientists tracked their health over the next 10 years and found 97 cases of stroke and 81 cases of dementia.

Researchers found that compared with those who did not drink fizzy drinks, people who drank one to six artificially sweetened drinks a week had twice the risk of stroke. There were similar, although weaker, associations for dementia risk.

IMAGE: Getty Images

Soon after, the research drew criticism given the collected data did not distinguish between the types of artificial sweeteners used in the drinks.

Responding to the study at the time, the American Beverage Association released a statement saying that low-calorie sweeteners found in beverages have been proven safe by worldwide government safety authorities

“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.”

The latest research comes as Australians are consuming fewer added sugars and drinking less sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) than they were two decades ago.

Similarly, in the United States, Americans are now drinking more bottled water than soft drinks, with soft drink consumption at an all-time low.

On Thursday, Coca-Cola shares tumbled and were on track for their worst day since the Great Recession, after the company gave a gloomy projection for its 2019 earnings.

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au