ONE can of diet fizzy drink a day can dramatically increase the risk of a stroke or heart attack, a study has revealed.
The new findings claim that millions of Britons who believe that the drinks are healthier and can keep them in trim may in fact be wrong.
It is the latest research to highlight the growing health concerns associated with non-alcoholic drinks like carbonated liquids and fruit juices.
Previous studies have shown that the drinks, which are packed with artificial sweetener, can cause long-term liver damage similar to that seen as a result of chronic alcohol abuse.
And others have shown that having as little as a couple of cans of pop a day, like cola or lemonade, raises the risk of liver damage as well as potentially causing diabetes and heart damage.
Now, the US research from experts at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and Columbia University Medical Center has found that people who drink diet soft drinks every day are 43 per cent more likely to have heart attacks, stroke or vascular disease.
Hannah Gardener and her colleagues, whose research appears online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, looked at both diet and regular soft drink consumption and the risk of stroke, heart attack and vascular death. They found that those who drank diet soft drinks daily were 43 per cent more likely to have suffered a “vascular” or blood vessel event than those who drank none, after taking into account pre-existing vascular conditions such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Light diet soft drink users – who drank between one a month and six a week – and those who chose regular soft drinks were not more likely to suffer vascular events. Ms Gardener said: “Our results suggest a potential association between daily diet soft drink consumption and vascular outcomes. The mechanisms by which soft drinks may affect vascular events are unclear.”
With soaring obesity rates, artificially sweetened soft drinks are marketed as healthier alternatives to sugar-sweetened beverages, due to their lack of calories. But the long-term health consequences of drinking diet soft drinks remain unclear.
Previous research has shown that, even though they have fewer calories than their “full fat” versions, diet drinks not only fail to stop people piling on the pounds, they can even trigger the appetite to eat more.
One study involving more than 500 participants found that those who guzzled diet soft drinks every day had 70 per cent bigger waists after a decade than those who drank none.
And even those who kept to just two diet drinks a day put on almost two inches around the middle.
Low-calorie drinks now command more than 60 per cent of the soft drinks market in Britain.
A spokesman for the British Soft Drinks Association, said: “We should be cautious in drawing lessons from this study. It does not take into account important factors such as family history and weight gain, and it conflicts with a very well-established idea that the consumption of diet drinks as part of a calorie-controlled diet can help reduce obesity and thus reduce the incidence of strokes. People who are looking to control or reduce their weight will often find that diet drinks can play a useful role in their diet.”
But Victoria Taylor, of the British Heart Foundation, said: “We know too many high-sugar, fizzy drinks are bad for our teeth and can put on weight – a risk factor for heart disease.
“Try some healthier alternatives, such as unsweetened fruit juice, low fat milk, or water.”