A Possible Link Between Diet Beverages and Stroke


A recent study of postmenopausal women age 50 to 79 in the United States found those who consumed two or more artificially sweetened beverages per day were at a higher risk for the most common type of stroke — ischemic stroke.

Are Diet Drinks Bad for Your Health?

The Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study (WHI-OS) included 81,000 postmenopausal women enrolled from 1993-1998. Researchers tracked each participant for close to 12 years.

Researchers asked the study participants to self-report their use of artificially sweetened (diet) beverages. About 5 percent of respondents reported consuming two or more 12-ounce soda servings per day. Those who consumed more soda were:

  • 31 percent more likely to experience a stroke as the result of a blood clot
  • 29 percent more likely to have heart disease
  • 16 percent more likely to die from any condition than those who never drank diet beverages or only had them once a week

Researchers Account for Factors That May Cause Health Risks of Diet Beverages

To ensure the comparisons between frequent diet soda drinkers and low-to-average consumers were accurate, researchers took these factors into account when analyzing the results:

  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat based on weight and height
  • Stroke risk factors such as diabetes and history of stroke or heart disease
  • Physical activity and diet

Because of this, researchers were confident that other factors weren’t responsible for the increased risk found in the group that consumed two or more diet drinks per day.

Some Women May be More Vulnerable to Artificially Sweetened Beverages

The study further examined who was most vulnerable to the risk associated with artificially sweetened beverages. Researchers found:

  • African-American women were four times as likely to have a clot-based stroke as Caucasian women.
  • Obese women (defined as having a BMI over 30) were twice as likely to have a clot-based stroke or ischemic stroke.

Only Association, Not Cause, Found Between Diet Drinks and Stroke

At least two previous studies suggested a link between diet soda and stroke. While the WHI-OS results showed an association between diet sodas and health risk, it wasn’t intended to prove that diet sodas cause the increased risk for stroke, heart disease or death. Researchers continue to study the linkage.

If you’re concerned you might be at risk for stroke, learn more about the UCLA Stroke Center or contact us for appointments and referrals.