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Soda Drinkers Have Increased Risk of Poor Brain Health

Soda Drinks

Whether regular or diet, drinking soda is damaging to your health.


Despite the recommendations to cut back, it seems that soda intake continues to be a problem in the United States. According to Harvard University School of Public Health, on any given day, half of all people in the US consume a sugary drink.

One in four Americans get 200 calories from the excess calories (all sugar) – which over the course of a year could easily pack on the pounds, putting us at risk for obesity-related diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

New research shows that all the excess sugar we are consuming is not only bad for the waistline, but is also very damaging to brain health. Using data from the Framingham Heart Study, those who drink sugary beverages more frequently are more likely to have smaller overall brain volume, particularly in the area of the hippocampus which is important for learning and memory.

Just three sodas per week is considered “high intake” which put participants at risk for accelerated brain aging – and an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

So of course we should all switch to diet sodas, right?

Wrong, a follow-up study found that those who drank diet sodas daily were almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia over those who did not. In fact, the threshold for soda intake was lower – just one per day was associated with smaller brain volume.

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"These studies are not the be-all and end-all, but it's strong data and a very strong suggestion," says Sudha Seshadri, a professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine (MED), who is senior author on both papers. "It looks like there is not very much of an upside to having sugary drinks, and substituting the sugar with artificial sweeteners doesn't seem to help."

A typical 20 ounce soda contains 15 to 18 teaspoons of sugar and around 240 calories. A 64-ounce fountain cola could easily have as much as 700 calories. Unfortunately, liquid calories do not make you feel as full as if you would eat the same calories in solid food, so most people drink the sodas on top of what they are already eating – making it more of a risk factor for obesity.

Instead of soda, reach for plain old water, says Dr. Seshadri. If you find the taste too bland, spice it up with some citrus fruit such as lemon, lime or orange. Beware of just reaching for another sugary beverages, such as fruit juice or a sports drink – remember that those calories add up too!

Journal References:
Matthew P. Pase et al. Sugar- and Artificially Sweetened Beverages and the Risks of Incident Stroke and Dementia: A Prospective Cohort Study. Stroke, April 2017 DOI: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.116.016027

Matthew P. Pase, Jayandra J. Himali, Paul F. Jacques, Charles DeCarli, Claudia L. Satizabal, Hugo Aparicio, Ramachandran S. Vasan, Alexa S. Beiser, Sudha Seshadri. Sugary beverage intake and preclinical Alzheimer's disease in the community. Alzheimer's & Dementia, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.jalz.2017.01.024

Additional Resource
Harvard University, TH Chan School of Public Health

Photo Credit:
By Christian Giersing - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons



Low-calorie sweeteners have been proven safe by worldwide government safety authorities as well as hundreds of scientific studies and there is nothing in this research that counters this well-established fact. The FDA, World Health Organization, European Food Safety Authority and others have extensively reviewed low-calorie sweeteners and have all reached the same conclusion – they are safe for consumption. While we respect the mission of these organizations to help prevent conditions like stroke and dementia, the authors of this study acknowledge that their conclusions do not – and cannot – prove cause and effect. And according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), many risk factors can increase an individual’s likelihood of developing stroke and dementia including age, hypertension, diabetes and genetics. NIH does not mention zero calorie sweeteners as a risk factor. Scientific evidence does show us that beverages containing these sweeteners can be a useful tool as part of an overall weight management plan. America’s beverage companies support and encourage balanced lifestyles by providing people with a range of beverage choices — with and without calories and sugar — so they can choose the beverage that is right for them.