Reaching for a diet pop to quench your thirst? Your heart might be a reason to rethink that choice

Dr. Angela Seabright
Niccole LaDue

| 3 min read

Could regular consumption of diet soda lead to heart problems for postmenopausal women?
According to a recent study by Ankur Vyas, M.D., a cardiologist at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, the answer may be yes. The findings from this study were presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 63rd Annual Scientific Session this year.
When compared with women who rarely or never drank diet soda, women who consumed two or more diet drinks per day were 30 percent more likely to experience a cardiovascular event, and 50 percent more likely to die from such an event.
This study included 59,614 women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study and is the largest of its kind to assess the relationship between diet drinks and cardiac events, but does it show a causal relationship?
Dr. Vyas says the study only shows an association, so it cannot be said that diet drinks cause heart problems in women. However, should the findings cause you to rethink your drink?
The health risks of diet sodas have been a popular research topic for years. Previous studies have shown connections between diet drinks and metabolic syndrome, diabetes, high blood pressure and a higher body mass index. Also, research has shown regular and diet sodas pose a risk of decreased bone density in women at risk for osteoporosis. The results from this study are in line with previous findings.
On the other hand, there are some things to consider about this particular study. The average age of the participants was about 63 years old, which means they are already at an increased risk for heart disease. The data was self-reported, which means it is subject to bias such as selective memory and exaggeration. Also, the participants in the study who consumed the most diet drinks were most likely trying to make up for other unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking. Many of the women who consumed the most diet drinks reported being overweight, having diabetes, and/or having high blood pressure. Finally, the study has not yet been published or peer-reviewed.
Although the study appears to have limitations, the findings should still raise some eyebrows. It is important to understand the health implications of the foods and beverages we’re consuming. The words diet, low or free do not necessarily mean healthy. Diet beverages contain artificial sweeteners and are highly processed, which has been linked with weight gain and chronic conditions.
Whether you consume regular or diet sodas, my best advice is to do so in moderation. Limit yourself to 1-2 drinks per week versus 1-2 drinks per day. Also, you can purchase many soda varieties in smaller 7.5 ounce cans, which may be just enough to cure your craving for a sweetened, carbonated beverage.
Photo credit: elcualquiera-photo

A Healthier Michigan is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
No Personal Healthcare Advice or Other Advice
This Web site provides general educational information on health-related issues and provides access to health-related resources for the convenience of our users. This site and its health-related information and resources are not a substitute for professional medical advice or for the care that patients receive from their physicians or other health care providers.
This site and its health-related information resources are not meant to be the practice of medicine, the practice of nursing, or to carry out any professional health care advice or service in the state where you live. Nothing in this Web site is to be used for medical or nursing diagnosis or professional treatment.
Always seek the advice of your physician or other licensed health care provider. Always consult your health care provider before beginning any new treatment, or if you have any questions regarding a health condition. You should not disregard medical advice, or delay seeking medical advice, because of something you read in this site.