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Drink to your Heart | Feb. 16, 2011

February is American Hearth month.  Last week the news was filled with information regarding a study that was released linking diet sodas to heart disease.  The study has not been published yet, nor has it been through the peer review process.  Needless to say, the results from research conducted at Miller School of Medicine in Miami were presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2011.

This study has all sorts of limitations, but here is what is known so far.  The study began in 2003 with 2500 men and women aged 40 and older.  It used a food frequency questionnaire to ask how often they drank diet sodas (among other foods and beverages).  Nine years later it assessed rates of stroke and heart disease in study participants.  This was an observational study, meaning it shows associations, not cause and effect.  That means people who drank sodas could have been doing other things as well that raise their risk for heart disease – like following poor diets and drinking diet soda to compensate; not exercising and drinking diet soda to compensate; eating a lot of high sugar snacks and…you get the picture.

The results of this study showed people who said they drank diet soda DAILY were 61 percent more likely to experience a cardiovascular event than people who drank no diet soda.  The findings do back up previous studies, again observational studies, showing a positive link between diet soda consumption and the risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome – two major risk factors for heart disease.  But here’s the twist that you have to rule out for with uncontrolled studies – could it be that people with diabetes and metabolic syndrome are more likely to consume diet soda than others to begin with?

Does that mean we should bury our heads in the sand and continue to drink soda on a daily basis?  Probably not, and water is a great alternative.  The question we need to ask is what is the mechanism by which diet sodas might lead to stroke or heart disease?  This can only be determined in controlled studies, not observational ones.  After all, if we drew all of our conclusions from observational studies we could say that of all people who die from cancer, 99 percent have eaten pickles.  Therefore pickle consumption is linked to cancer.  WRONG!!

Rather than having a diet soda every day, alternate with these 5 refreshing heart healthy beverage alternatives:

  • Ice cold water with sprigs of fresh mint and cucumber slices
  • Green tea with chunks of lemon
  • Dark chocolate hot cocoa
  • 50/50 whole fruit juice and fizzy water
  • Tomato juice
  • Homemade iced tea with crushed ice
  • A glass of red wine (not recommended while at work) with moderation, if one is good two might not be better.
With these your heart will salute what you drink.