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Two New Studies Suggest Both Diet and Regular Soft Drinks May Increase Risk of Stroke and Dementia

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The findings of two new studies add to the growing body of evidence that links soda to serious health problems.

Excess sugar – especially the fructose in sugary drinks – might damage your brain, the new research suggests.

If you think drinking diet soda puts you in the clear, think again: One of the studies found that people who drank diet soda daily were almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia when compared to those who did not.

The first study, published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia on March 5, 2017, found that higher consumption of sugary beverages was associated with markers for pre-clinical Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers looked at 4,000 people who consumed more than two sugary drinks a day of any type – soda, fruit juice, and other soft drinks – or more than three per week of soda alone. Among that “high intake” group, they found multiple signs of accelerated brain aging, including smaller overall brain volume, poorer episodic memory, and a shrunken hippocampus, all risk factors for early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. They also found that higher intake of diet soda – at least one per day – was associated with smaller brain volume.

This study’s results align with earlier research done with smaller samples, including one with 737 middle-aged participants in the Boston Puerto Rican Health Study, which found that higher sugar intake was cross-sectionally associated with Alzheimer’s-like behavioral patterns, reports Bloomberg.

The second study, published in the journal Stroke on April 20, 2017, found “…higher recent and higher cumulative intake of artificially sweetened soft drinks were associated with an increased risk of ischemic stroke, all-cause dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease dementia.” This was after researchers adjusted for age, sex, education (for analysis of dementia), caloric intake, diet quality, physical activity, and smoking. That study concluded “artificially sweetened soft drink consumption was associated with a higher risk of stroke and dementia.”

After measuring volunteers’ beverage intake at three points over seven years, the researchers monitored the volunteers for 10 years, looking for evidence of stroke in 2,888 people over age 45, and dementia in 1,484 participants over age 60. Surprisingly, they found no correlation between sugary beverage intake and stroke or dementia. However, they DID find that people who drank at least one diet soda per day were almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia.

Both studies were conducted by researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine. Lead researcher Matthew Pase, a fellow in the MED neurology department and an investigator at the FHS who is corresponding author on both papers, explained that excess sugar has long been associated with cardiovascular and metabolic diseases like obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, but little is known about its long-term effects on the human brain.

Pase said he chose to study sugary drinks as a way of examining overall sugar consumption.

“It’s difficult to measure overall