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Diet Soft Drinks: Bizarre Warning

People who drink diet soda have a higher risk for stroke and heart attack than those who drink no soda at all, reports The Associated Press of preliminary research from the University of Miami in Florida.

Why? That's the stumper. Even though there is no chemical or biological explanation, Dr. Steven Greenberg, Harvard Medical School neurologist and vice chairman of the International Stroke Conference in California, where the research was presented, says the findings should be "a wakeup call to pay attention to diet sodas." He called it a "real world" look at possible risk.

It could be that people who consume a lot of diet soft drinks don't exercise, weigh more, drink more alcohol or have other risk factors, such as high blood pressure and smoking. But even when the Miami team took these and other factors into account, there was no change in the risk.

"It's reasonable to have doubts, because we don't have a clear mechanism. This needs to be viewed as a preliminary study," cautioned lead researcher Hannah Gardener of the University of Miami. With that caveat, she told AP that even if you're trying to cut calories, "diet soft drinks may not be an optimal substitute for sugar-sweetened beverages."

The study: Data was culled from the Northern Manhattan study, which followed about 2,500 adults over age 40 in the New York area from 1993 to 2001 through random phone calls. Half were Hispanic and one-fourth were black, making it one of the few studies to look at these risks in minorities, who have higher rates of stroke, notes AP. At the beginning of the study, participants completed a diet questionnaire; their health was then tracked for nearly 10 years. During the study period, there were 559 strokes or heart attacks, of which 338 were fatal.

The results:

  • Among the 2,500 study participants, 116 drank diet soda daily. This group had a 48 percent higher risk of stroke or heart attack, compared with the 901 people in the study who drank no soda of any kind.

  • This risk level held even after taking into account rates of smoking, diabetes, waist size and other differences among the groups.

  • There was no significant difference in stroke and heart attack risk among people who drank a mix of diet and regular soda.

AP notes that earlier studies have tied diet and regular soda consumption to a greater risk of type 2 diabetes and a group of weight-related problems called metabolic syndrome.

What should you do? Drink water!

--From the Editors at Netscape

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