Health Headlines: Diet soda and dementia - WBRC FOX6 News - Birmingham, AL

Health Headlines: Diet soda and dementia

(Source: WBRC video) (Source: WBRC video)

 If you love your diet soda, the latest study may have you thinking twice about drinking them. But like most things, the headlines don't always tell the whole story. UAB Nutritionist Dr. Beth Kitchin takes a closer look at the data so you can decide if you should quit your diet soda habit! Let's look at three important things about the study the headlines sometimes missed: 

  1. The Study Was Observational: These types of studies cannot show cause and effect. They can only show associations or correlations. You can think of them as circumstantial evidence. It could have been that the people who were more prone to get dementia or stroke were simply more likely to drink diet sodas and that the diet sodas had nothing to do with it. 
  2.  They Didn't Distinguish Between Types of Artificial Sweeteners: This is a big weakness of the study. There are several types of artificial sweeteners out there – and they're all different. 
  3. When They Controlled for All the Other Possible Variables, the Risk Really Falls. You've probably heard the phrase "the researchers controlled for".  One of the big problems in these types of studies is that there are many other things that could explain the correlation than the thing the researchers are measuring. So they try to "control" for other factors. For instance, in this study, what if people with diabetes were more likely to drink diet sodas and the diet soda was just a marker of diabetes? When the researchers controlled for those other factors in this study, they did not see that same high correlation between diet sodas and dementia and stroke. 
  4. The Study Participants are Not Representative of the Population. There were few to no minorities in the study group. 
  5. The Overall Risk of Dementia and Stroke in This Group Was Really Low. So, if the original risk is pretty low, then the increase in risk is also pretty low. 

So, what should you do if you love your diet soda? Beth doesn't think this study alone should scare you too much. Beth will stick with her recommendation to her patients that 1 to 2 diet sodas - 12 ounces each - are likely safe. She also thinks researchers need to do better studies that can tell us if we should be concerned. Beth drinks a couple of diet sodas a week and this study won't change that. But she does think that not overdoing it on the diet sodas is a good idea!

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