We all do, or at least try to do, little daily things that are good for our body and mind—especially at the start of a new year. Whether that means taking the stairs instead of the escalator, swapping white bread for whole wheat, or drawing ourselves a long evening bath to soak in, it feels good to make healthy choices throughout the day. But it turns out one thing you may have been doing might not be so good for you after all—in fact, it could lead to dementia down the line.
Dementia, defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a “syndrome in which there is deterioration in cognitive function beyond what might be expected from the usual consequences of biological aging,” affects more than 5.8 million people in the United States. One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, reports the Alzheimer’s Association (AA). This may sound dire, but there are things you can do to diminish your dementia risk—including cutting back on this supposedly healthy beverage. Read on to find out what you should not be drinking often if you’re concerned about your cognitive health.
Many studies have shown that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages like soda and juice can cause weight gain and even contribute to other health issues such as high blood pressure and diabetes. These facts have been the catalyst for droves of people over the years to switch from regular to diet soda, the seemingly healthier alternative. But we may want to skip soda altogether, whether it’s made with sugar or artificial sweetener.
A 2017 study published in the journal Stroke found that diet sodas lead to a higher risk of dementia. The study kept track of 1,484 people over the age of 60 for a 10-year period and found that those who drank diet soda every day (compared to less than once a week) were three times more likely to develop the disease.
The study did not only look at dementia, but also at the stroke risk that comes with regularly drinking diet soda, and found similar results. For this, researchers kept track of 2,888 people age 45 and over for the same 10-year period. They found that those who drank at least one diet soda a day were also about three times more likely “to have an ischemic stroke, caused by blood vessel blockage.”
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In a video explaining the study, Matthew Pase, PhD, a Boston University School of Medicine neurologist and the study’s lead author, emphasized that the research did not show causation, only a correlation. “The important point is that an observational study like this cannot prove that drinking artificially-sweetened drinks is linked to strokes or dementia, but it does identify an intriguing trend that will need to be explored in other studies,” Pase said in an accompanying commentary from the American Heart Association (AHA), per The Washington Post.
Pase also noted that it was a small study: Only 3 percent of the people had a new stroke and 5 percent developed dementia. But his takeaway, although just a hypothesis, was still that diet drinks are not the healthy alternative they have been chalked up to be.
This doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in a Diet Coke every once in awhile—it’s all about moderation. But when it comes to regular consumption, good old water should be your go-to. “Have more water and have less diet soda,” Christopher Gardner, PhD, director of Nutrition Studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, said in an AHA press release, per The Washington Post. “And don’t switch to real soda.”
Another 2017 study, this one published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia, found that a higher intake of sugary beverages in general was associated with lower total brain volume. It found that whether diet or regular soda, you can start seeing these negative cognitive side effects from just two drinks per day.