Soda linked to stroke risk: Making sense of health scares around soda and diet soda

Shine On

Yet another recent study has linked sugary soft drinks to a horrible health outcome. This time it's stroke risk in women.

The Japanese study monitored the soda consumption of close to 40,000 men and women through food questionnaires, reports the Globe and Mail.

Researchers found that the women who drank the most pop — almost daily — had a higher risk of stroke than women who consumed less or none. This result was not observed in the men studied.

This is far from the first "pop is bad" story we've seen in recent years.

A controversial study released in March of this year asserted that the colouring in many colas could potentially cause cancer in humans because it caused cancer in lab rats who had been administered large doses of the colouring (you'd have to drink 1000 cans to get the same dose). Both Pepsi and Coke changed the amount of the ingredient as a result of the study.

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The most obvious problem with surgery soda is the large amount of empty calories it delivers. Pair that with the obesity epidemic sweeping this continent, and it's no wonder that the phrase "soda is the new cigarettes" yields about six million results on Google.

And then there's diet pop. Some studies have found that calorie-free beverages may actually make you gain weight because your body doesn't ultimately recognize the drink as food or energy, and so you'll just end up eating more later.

Another study linked diet soda consumption to an increased risk of heart attack, and there will always be rumours about Aspartame causing cancer, though those rumours have never been clearly substantiated.

The thing is, no matter what the claim about soda, it seems there will always be another physician or medical expert claiming the opposite.

So knowing all this, who is a soda lovin' lady to trust?

"The problem with any purported 'links' to soda consumption and any of these adverse health effects is that there will undoubtedly be confounding variables," says Toronto-based naturopathic doctor Makoto Trotter.

"Are the participants who drink more soda more likely to be eating more fast food? Are they more likely to be more sedentary? With increased caffeine from certain soft drinks, do they suffer from insomnia? Are soda pop drinkers more likely to smoke?"

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Trotter says that soda pop consumption is probably better regarded as a marker or indicator for how healthy a person's lifestyle and diet are — there are just too many variables to assess to find any direct links.

"That being said, I would have to say that soda has zero nutritional benefit, and is consumed solely for the sweetness, texture, and sometimes caffeine," says Trotter. "From a nutritional perspective, it can clearly be said that it is not good for you."

Although most of these links between pop and negative health outcomes have not been proven, Trotter feels the drinks are still problematic and deserve their bad reputation.

"Their common ingredients of phosphoric acid, artificial sweeteners or high-fructose corn syrup, caffeine, artificial colours and flavours are "bad guys" individually, and even worse in the syrupy combination of soda."

Jennifer Kuk is an obesity expert at York University, and sees these studies as similarly problematic.

"In order to concretely say that something is linked with something else, randomized controlled trials need to be done," says Kuk. "As far as I know, we do not have any randomized controlled trials showing a link between soda consumption and any of the following health outcomes."

Kuk says that when it comes to studies of soda consumption and weight gain, the literature is mixed.

"The main concern with weight gain is the number of calories consumed, so if you consume more calories, you are more likely to gain weight, regardless of the source be it soda or organic apples," says Kuk.

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With regards to heart health, Kuk says there is evidence to show that sugar and simple carbohydrate consumption is has a negative affect on your heart, but again, this is not specific to soda.

Both Kuk and Trotter see sodas as contributing factor to the many problems that come with eating processed foods and generally unhealthy diets.

Ultimately they agree that most of these studies are not entirely conclusive, and yet it still seems crazy to argue with the statement that pop is bad for you.

"There is no nutritional benefit, and on top of that, it contains ingredients that not only have no value to us physiologically, but are potentially detrimental to our health," says Kuk.

If that's not enough to make you put down that can of soda, then by all means, drink up.