More kids drinking diet beverages: survey
With the rapid expansion of Americans' collective waistline in the past couple of decades, diet versions of sweet drinks and foods are increasingly popping up on supermarket shelves. Flickr

If you thought diet soda is a healthier alternative to calorie-laden regular soda, you may be wrong. The bubbly zero calorie drink might increase your risk of heart disease.

For decades, soft drinks manufacturers have marketed the Diet Soda (such as Diet Coke) as a substitute for high-calorie regular drinks, which are linked to health risks such as obesity and diabetes.

Subsequent research on diet sodas, which replace sugar with exotic sweeteners such as aspartame or stevia, are found to increase risks for heart disease. The latest study indicates that people who drank diet soda on a daily basis were at an increased risk of experiencing stroke, heart attack and death due to these conditions.

"Our results suggest a potential association between daily diet soft drink consumption and vascular outcomes," says study researcher Hannah Gardener, an epidemiologist at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine. Researchers at Columbia University in New York City also contributed to the study.

The Journal of General Internal Medicine published the study online Jan. 26.

The researchers accessed the diet soda drinking habits of 2,564 residents of northern Manhattan over a 10-year period and found that those who drank diet soda daily had increased risks for vascular disease, including heart disease and stroke.

Gardener and her team working in collaboration with researchers at Columbia University Medical Center, monitored the volunteers for several risk factors such as smoking, physical activity, body mass index, diet and alcohol consumption.

Researchers then deduced the results based on how often the participant drank soft drinks, if the beverages were diet or regular and the frequency of heart attacks or strokes causing deaths among the participants over a period of 10-years.

People who were already stricken with diabetes and high blood pressure were 43 per cent more likely to suffer stroke or heart attack if addicted to Diet Soda on a daily basis. The study further indicated no risks were found with people who drank regular soft drinks or drank diet soda in limits (like once a month or once in a week).

"There is a need for further research before any conclusions can be drawn regarding the potential health consequences of diet soft drink consumption," Gardener said.

The results spurred a massive debate over skepticism about the study, saying it was co-relational but didn't point to a certain cause.

"Amazing what passes for science in the medical field. Ever notice that shark attacks increase when ice cream sales increase?" Jason Bender from Livonia, Mich. wrote on a Yahoo board. "It has nothing to do with it being summertime... Just don't eat ice cream or you will get attacked by sharks!"

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