Do Diet Drinks Increase Your Risk of Heart Attack?

If you're like most women trying to watch their weight, brace yourself.If you're like most women trying to watch their weight, brace yourself.New research finds a possible link between diet soft drink consumption and the risk of vascular events. If you're like most women trying to watch their weight, brace yourself: You're probably going to be shocked (and dismayed) at a new study linking diet soda to adverse vascular events. The research, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, suggests diet soft drinks may actually increase your risk of stroke and heart attack. The suspected culprit? Artificial sweeteners, those hard-to-pronounce ingredients diet soft drinks are loaded with.

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Researchers from Columbia University and the University of Miami looked at the soft drinking habits of more than 2,000 men and women ages 40 and over, and then compared their beverage habits with the number of vascular events that occurred over a 10-year period. After factoring in pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, those who consumed diet soda more than once a day were 43 percent more likely to have suffered a vascular event than those who didn't.

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But can diet soda really be that bad?

"We just don't know right now," says lead researcher Hannah Gardner, PhD, from the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami. "No other studies have found a link between diet soft drink consumption and vascular events, so we need more studies like mine to know for sure."

It's the not knowing conclusively that concerns celebrity nutritionist Paula Simpson. "With modern food technology, we're now exposed to more chemicals and byproducts in our diet and not aware of the long-term health implications these chemicals have on us," she says.

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Until we know for sure how diet sodas effect our health, Simpson says the ideal scenario is to avoid them altogether. But if you're a diet soda devotee, going cold turkey may not be realistic. If that's the case, Simpson suggests gradually cutting back: If you're a daily drinker, work on limiting your diet soda/artificial sweetener intake to a weekly basis; if you're more of a weekly diet soda sipper, work on making it an every other week occurrence or a monthly one. Simpson also suggests looking for drinks with naturally based alternative sweeteners, like Stevia.

--By Stephanie Castillo, Prevention

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