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Diet Drinks May Triple the Risk of Dementia, Study Says

By Skye Sherman  •   April 1, 2024

Photo Credit: by Michael Morse, Pexels.com
Photo Credit: by Michael Morse, Pexels.com

It’s an established fact that soda isn’t good for you, but most people associate drinking soda with obesity and health conditions related to skin issues, excess weight, and behavioral issues in children.

Many people are also aware that soda is linked to heart issues as well. As CNN reports, “Drinking two liters or more per week of artificially sweetened beverages — the equivalent of a medium-sized fast-food diet soda a day — raised the risk of an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation by 20% when compared to people who drank none.”

But did you know that diet sodas may have an even more sinister effect, with a link to neurological issues like dementia?

In addition, beware that many Alzheimer’s disease cases are linked to modifiable risk factors (dependent on nutrition and lifestyle) like depression, mid-life obesity, mid-life hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. In other words, improving your cardiometabolic health by eating better could help reduce your risk of dementia.

In this article, we’ll take a look at a toxic chemical found in some diet drinks and sodas, and discuss the links between diet sodas and dementia.

The link between diet drinks and dementia

You might think that drinking soda infrequently has no negative effects. And many people think that drinking diet soda is a healthier choice than regular soda since it contains fewer calories. But unfortunately, the research suggests otherwise.

An article published in Scientific American states, “drinking even one can of diet soda a day triples your risk of dementia.”

Remember that dementia “is characterized as a decline in cognitive function beyond the level associated with normal aging,” according to News Medical Net. “There are approximately 55 million cases of dementia across the world, and the incidence increases by 10 million cases each year.”

As you can see, the last thing we need is more causes of dementia! The article also states, “consuming free sugars, primarily through beverages such as fruit, milk-based drinks, and sodas, increased the risk of incident dementia. Fruit juices showed a similar association, but to a lesser extent, while consuming free sugars through coffee and tea was not associated with an increased risk of dementia.”

Are sugar-free diet sodas healthier?

It’s important to understand the difference here between free sugars (or added sugars) and intrinsic sugars. Free sugars are added to foods and drinks while intrinsic sugars occur naturally (like the sugar found in fruit, honey, or dairy).

Many diet sodas are labeled sugar-free, but that’s because they contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, or sucralose instead. These sugar replacements reduce overall calorie content but consuming a lot of them doesn’t seem to be good for brain health or your gut microbiome. They’ve been linked to inflammation and reduced cognitive functioning.

Also keep in mind that artificial sweeteners may not contain calories, but they do still affect insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism, and dysregulation of these processes has been linked to an increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases (like dementia). Some scientists also propose that insulin resistance in the brain plays a role in developing dementia.

Moreover, these artificially sweetened drinks can affect your cardiovascular health, and both hypertension and diabetes are also linked to increased risk of dementia. Some diet drinks can worsen vascular health and even impair blood flow to the brain.

As you can see, it seems that daily consumption of diet soda is part of the problem and is the most strongly linked to medical contraindications. If you’re a daily diet soda drinker, it’s time to switch up your habits!

All in all, diet sodas don’t seem like a safe choice for optimal health. Even if you’re on a diet, sugar-free sodas may not be a better option. Read on to learn more about how to drink soda better.

How to drink sodas without causing dementia

Need to get your soda fix but don’t want to increase your risk of dementia? There are many options on the market today.

Consider switching to carbonated waters that are sweetened naturally. You can buy a SodaStream machine to have more control over the ingredients you consume, or you can even make your own concoctions.

For example, adding a squeeze of lime juice, lemon juice, and a spoonful of maple syrup or honey to club soda or tonic water is a much cleaner way to get the soda experience without all the harmful health effects and toxic chemicals. You can even make your own simple syrup and keep the sugar content low.

Another idea is adding a shrub to sparkling water. Shrub is a type of apple cider vinegar sweetened with naturally created syrups from real fruits. Your local farmers’ market probably sells bottles of them and you may have never even noticed!

Wean off your diet soda habit and see how much better you feel. Diet drinks are part of the dementia problem, but so are excess sugars (especially artificial sweeteners). And so is sitting all day long!

Wondering what to drink instead? Try lemon water, green tea, herbal teas, matcha, black coffee, or any other light drink that is minimally processed (if at all) and doesn’t contain any potentially harmful additives.

In addition, it’s best to consume a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods (such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and tea or coffee) to have a lower risk of dementia.

What to know about other toxic soda ingredients

Let’s take a look at some recent news in the soda world. Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO) has been in the news lately as it is soon to be outlawed.

ScienceAlert reports, “An ingredient once commonly used in citrus-flavored sodas to keep the tangy taste mixed thoroughly through the beverage could finally be banned for good across the US. The FDA proposed in November to revoke the registration of a modified vegetable oil known as BVO in the wake of recent toxicology studies that make it difficult to support its ongoing use.”

What harm does it cause, exactly? It seems that in humans (and even animal test subjects), over time the oil accumulates in fat as well as the liver, heart, and brain. Scientists are concerned about its potential to cause thyroid toxicity, developmental neurotoxicity, and reproductive toxicity.

The article also states, “BVO, or brominated vegetable oil, has been used as an emulsifying agent since the 1930s to ensure citrus flavoring agents don’t float to the top of sodas.”

If you’re a big fan of citrus-flavored sodas, this may be sobering news. But only for Americans. BVO is already banned in many countries, including India, Japan, the European Union, and even the state of California (though the legislation isn’t planned to take effect until 2027).

Also, the good news is that many big soda manufacturers have already been phasing out this ingredient over the past decade or so, due to research coming out about its potential dangers.

While BVO was once thought to be safe to consume, more recent studies have found that the risks are not worth the rewards in this case. That’s why it’s essential to always check the ingredients of any products you consume.

Other dietary links to dementia

Boston University also reports, “Data from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS) has shown that people who more frequently consume sugary beverages such as sodas and fruit juices are more likely to have poorer memory, smaller overall brain volumes and smaller hippocampal volumes – an area of the brain important for memory.”

The study also claims, “Researchers also found that people who drank diet soda daily were almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia when compared to those who did not consume diet soda.”

Likewise, Harvard reports, “Diets high in foods associated with inflammation may accelerate brain aging, leading to dementia … Diets that are classified as pro-inflammatory typically include greater amounts of simple sugars, cholesterol, saturated fat, and fried foods.”

Dementia treatments and medications

While many are aware that excess sugar has adverse health effects, people tend to think that diet drinks are better than regular sodas because they contain less sugar. But unfortunately, they only contain less natural sugar, but still have artificial sweeteners which are arguably even more dangerous to your health.

Consuming too much sugar, whether natural or artificial, isn’t a great plan for your health, whether physical, mental, or emotional. Still, in some cases, a doctor may prescribe dementia treatments and medications such as Aricept, Exelon, or Razadyne ER.

Of course, only a doctor can prescribe dementia drugs. Also, before you make major changes to your diet or lifestyle, always consult with a qualified medical professional. Talk to your doctor about the best ways to prevent dementia and whether dementia drugs are right for you.



The purpose of the above content is to raise awareness only and does not advocate treatment or diagnosis. This information should not be substituted for your physician's consultation and it should not indicate that use of the drug is safe and suitable for you or your (pet). Seek professional medical advice and treatment if you have any questions or concerns.