Friday, February 11, 2011

Why You Shouldn't Freak Out (yet) Over the Diet Soda Study

There's been panic amongst diet soda drinkers this week.  A new study that was presented at the American Stroke Association Meeting this week showed that individuals drinking diet soda daily had a 61% increased risk of having a vascular event (heart attack or stroke) versus those that did not drink diet soda.  

Scary stuff!  Or so the media wants you to believe.  I'm not saying this study isn't important or interesting, but it certainly is making people scared (including the entire beverage industry).  

Before you freak out, here are some things to consider regarding this new study:
  • This type of study does not prove that diet sodas cause heart attacks and strokes.  It merely identifies a connection between the two; that the two are somehow related.  It could very well be that people at high risk for having a heart attack (because of their genetics, underlying health conditions, lifestyle choices) happen to choose to drink diet sodas.  The diet sodas may have nothing to do with their risk.
  • There is no known reason why diet sodas would have this effect, especially one soda a day.  I'm sure a lot of Dr. Dorks will now starting looking for a reason, but as of right now, there's really no obvious way the two are connected, making it a dubious connection.
  • The subjects used in this study were 2,500 people living in the New York area, of which 75% were black or Hispanic.  Blacks and Hispanics have over a 2-fold higher incidence of stroke than Whites.  It may be because Blacks and Hispanics have a higher prevalence of high blood pressure and diabetes, both of which are risk factors for a heart attack and stroke.  As such, this research may be more applicable to Black or Hispanics or those at very high risk for having a heart attack or stroke (see note below).
  • Of the 2,500 subjects in the study, only 116 of them drank soda daily versus 901 that drank no soda.  That's not a whole heck of a lot of people drinking soda.  It would be nice to see if this same connection between diet soda and vascular events is observed in a larger population. 
At this point, I wouldn't lose sleep over this one study.  But if you are a heavy drinker of diet sodas, there are other reasons why you should consider cutting back:
  1. There are no redeeming nutritional qualities of diet soda.  Many other beverages at least have 1 or 2 nutritional factors: juice has vitamins/antioxidants, ice tea has antioxidants, coffee has antioxidants.  
  2. I'm sure my dentist friend (aka, Nena), would tell you that soda wreaks havoc on your pearly whites. 
  3. There is preliminary evidence (in our mouse friends) that the sweet taste of diet soda without any calories screws up the body's ability to regulate appetite.  That's not good.  I don't know anyone that wants to feel hungry more often than they do already. 
***At the end of the day, the best way to reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke is to not smoke, exercise regularly, eat more vegetables and real food, maintain a normal body weight, have one cocktail a day, get enough sleep, and manage stress as much as possible.  If you have a family history of heart attacks or stroke, risk factors (high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol), or are Black or Hispanic, these suggestions are even more important and can significantly improve the quality and length of your life.

Now about that "one cocktail a day" recommendation....TGIF happy hour starts in just a few hours!  Cheers!