NEW Study Finds Diet Drinks Increase Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

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The University of Iowa completed a new study which analyzed diet drink intake and cardiovascular health in about 60,000 women.

The study is one of the largest studies ever completed on this topic. “Our findings are consistent with some previous data, especially those linking diet drinks to the metabolic syndrome,” says Dr.Ankur Vyas, a fellow in cardiovascular disease at UI Hospitals and Clinics, and the lead investigator of the study.

The results found that “compared to women who never or only rarely consume diet drinks, those who consume two or more a day are 30 percent more likely to have a cardiovascular event and 50 percent more likely to die from related disease.” The findings were presented March 30 at the American College of Cardiology’s 63rd Annual Scientific Session in Washington, D.C..

The ongoing regulatory battle over sugar substitutes used in diet drinks is over a 100 years old. Historically, saccharine – a non-nutritive coal-tar derivative that is 300 times sweeter than sugar, was developed at Johns Hopkins. A fascinating article entitled, The History of Aspartame, that was made public from Harvard University’s DASH repository states, “By 1907, saccharine was widely used as a sweetener in canned foods, though just five years later it was banned from use as a food additive. With the onset of sugar shortages in World War I, however, saccharine was again declared safe. With that, saccharine use increased steadily until the 1950’s while the potential adverse effects of the sugar substitute maintained a low profile.”

As saccharine was under pressure to be banned yet again, aspartame was accidentally discovered in 1965 by chemist, James M. Schlatter while working on an anti-ulcer drug. When aspartame was proposed to the FDA for approval the board found challenges with the evidence submitted and had concerns with oncogenicity (tendency to cause tumors). The board’s decision against the approval of aspartame was met with heavy protest from industry. On July 24, 1981, despite the boards finding, FDA commissioner Arthur Hull Hayes Jr. ruled that the sweetener, aspartame was safe for use in food. It was approved for soft drinks in 1983.

“In 1984, Americans consumed over 7 million pounds of aspartame, which is equivalent to 1.4 billion pounds of sugar.

The article out of Harvard states, “It seems likely that the high level of market demand for aspartame would not exist without a combination of trust in the FDA and desire for a low calorie sugar substitute.”

About one in five people in the U.S. consume diet drinks on a given day, according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2009-10). But, according to Vyas, there is a relative lack of data about the cardiovascular health consequences of diet drinks.

“It’s too soon to tell people to change their behavior based on this study; however, based on these and other findings we have a responsibility to do more research to see what is going on and further define the relationship, if one truly exists,” he adds. “This could have major public health implications.”

There is not enough evidence to derive a direct correlation between human intake of aspartame and disease and more research is required. This does not mean people should not continue to stay aware and educated about potential dangers. It’s a highly addictive substance.

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