By Spencer D Gear PhD
My friend Alan phoned me as he was watching the news on TV and saw the promotion for the upcoming story on Channel 9 news, Brisbane Qld. This dealt with the supposed link between diet drinks, stroke and dementia. I turned onto Channel 9 and waited for the item to come on. That item ended by stating that further research was needed.
That was also the information provided in an article in The Sun (UK). The emphasis was repeated that more research was needed. ‘But after accounting for all lifestyle factors, the researchers found the link to dementia was statistically insignificant’ in this British report (McDermott 2017).
The lead researcher of this study, Matthew Pase, said, ‘It’s important to note that the absolute risk for any one person who drinks diet pop is low. Of the 2,888 participants the study followed, there were only 97 cases of stroke and 81 cases of dementia’. The study warned: ‘That will need to be explored further in other studies…. We need more studies to confirm whether the association is true and causal or whether the association is caused by something else’ (CTVNews.ca Staff 2017).
What’s the truth in The Sun (UK’s) headline?
Coca killer ‘Just ONE Diet Coke or Pepsi Max a day can ‘TRIPLE the risk of a deadly stroke’ and dementia, researchers claim’
This Australian news item stated:
Drinking at least one artificially sweetened drink every day has been associated with a three times greater risk of having a stroke or developing dementia, according to a US study.
The researchers of the Boston University study, published in medical journal Stroke, caution that the findings only show an association, but say there is a need for further investigation (The Australian, 22 April 2017).
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the use of aspartame and other artificial sweeteners in the United States. In 2007, the FDA stated:
Considering results from the large number of studies on aspartame’s safety, including five previously conducted negative chronic carcinogenicity studies, a recently reported large epidemiology study with negative associations between the use of aspartame and the occurrence of tumors, and negative findings from a series of three transgenic mouse assays, FDA finds no reason to alter its previous conclusion that aspartame is safe as a general purpose sweetener in food (U.S. Food & Drug Administration 2007).
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) assesses the safety of sweeteners such as aspartame in the European Union. According to a 2009 report from its Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources Added to Food:
Overall, the Panel concluded, on the basis of all the evidence currently available … that there is no indication of any genotoxic or carcinogenic potential of aspartame and that there is no reason to revise the previously established ADI for aspartame of 40 mg/kg [body weight].
Though research into a possible link between aspartame and cancer continues, these agencies agree that studies done so far have not found such a link (American Cancer Society, Aspartame).
I consider it is way too early to claim a link between diet drinks, strokes and dementia. There is much more of a possibility that I will get dementia from the deep anaesthesia I have been through in my 5 heart surgeries triggering a predisposition to dementia:
“We don’t think that anesthesia and surgery actually cause Alzheimer’s or cause dementia,” he adds. “We think that it interacts with individual vulnerabilities where if you’re already predisposed to getting something like this, this speeds it up.” Scientists are working on ways to identify populations that might be more susceptible to dementia via biomarkers and other tests, and eventually hope to use that information to make surgery safer for them (Scientific American, October 23, 2014).
If the research was certain of the link between aspartame, stroke and dementia, I’d be off diet Coke and Pepsi Max immediately. At this point, it’s more suitable for mass media hype to get our attention – as with Aspartame years ago. That’s how I see it and I drink about 3-4 cans per week.
Country music legend, Loretta Lynn (pictured here at left on her 1965 album, Blue Kentucky Girl. At age 85 in 2017, she suffered a stroke (but is expected to make a full recovery). The second photograph is Loretta performing at age 82.
CTVNews.ca Staff 2017. Two new studies suggest links between soft drinks, dementia and stroke (online). CTV News, 20 April. Available at: http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/two-new-studies-suggest-links-between-soft-drinks-dementia-and-stroke-1.3377659 (Accessed 29 November 2017).
McDermott, N 2017. Coca killer: Just ONE Diet Coke or Pepsi Max a day can ‘TRIPLE the risk of a deadly stroke’ and dementia, researchers claim (online), The Sun (UK), 20 April. Available at: https://www.thesun.co.uk/living/3376748/diet-coke-pepsi-max-deadly-stroke-and-dementia/ (Accessed 29 November 2017).
U.S. Food & Drug Administration 2007. FDA Statement on European Aspartame Study (online), 20 April. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAdditivesIngredients/ucm208580.htm (Accessed 29 November 2017).
 McDermott (2017).
 When I originally accessed this article online, it was available for open access, but on 29 November 2017 it is available only to subscribers of The Australian.
Copyright © 2017 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 November 2017.