Diet Joke: Drinking Diet Coke Daily 'Increases Risk of Dying Young from Stroke and Heart Attack'
Two or more artificially-sweetened drinks a day ups the risk of stroke by a quarter and heart disease by a third, new findings show.
Drinking just two diet drinks a day increases the risk of stroke by a quarter and heart disease by a third. And compared with people who never touch them, the risk of early death is 16 percent higher for diet drink guzzlers.
'Diet drinks are NOT harmless'
Scientists warned their findings should serve as a warning to those on diets.
Dr Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani, lead author of the study at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York said: "Many well-meaning people, especially those who are overweight or obese, drink low-calorie sweetened drinks to cut calories in their diet.
"Our research and other observational studies have shown that artificially sweetened beverages may not be harmless and high consumption is associated with a higher risk of stroke and heart disease."
Heart disease is where the blood vessels that supply the heart with blood narrow, increases the risk of a heart attack, angina and stroke.
A heart attack is where the artery is blocked, preventing blood from getting through - and a ischaemic stroke is where a blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked in a similar way.
Obese women at even greater risk
The new findings are based on a big study of women and show some groups are at even greater risk, with those drinking two or more diet drinks a day who were also obese having more than double the stroke risk.
And African-American women also had a higher risk of stroke.
Dr Mossavar-Rahmani did stress while their findings suggest a link, they couldn't prove diet drinks cause stroke and heart problems.
The research, published in the journal Stroke, included data from 81,714 post-menopausal women (who were aged 50 to 79 at the start of the study) and who were tracked for an average of 12 years.
One serving of diet drink was regarded as 355ml.
Dr Mossavar-Rahmani said the study had not looked at individual artificial sweeteners, saying: "We don't know specifically what types of artificially sweetened beverages they were consuming, so we don't know which artificial sweeteners may be harmful and which may be harmless."
More research is needed
Tracy Parker, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation said more research is needed to fully understand the link found in the study.
She said: "We're all too familiar with the fact that sugary drinks are not only bad for our teeth, but the excess calories can make us put on weight, increasing our risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.
"Although this study rightly suggests that diet drinks don't do us any good, it's observational.
"This means we don't know why these drinks might be linked to an increased risk of heart and circulatory disease.
"To definitely understand the link between diet drinks and disease risk, more research is needed.
"But that doesn't mean you're off the hook.
"Put your sugary drink down and swap it for water. Your body will thank you for it."
Cutting calories? Drink water instead
The American Heart Association has recently published a science advisory which found there was inadequate scientific research to conclude that low-calorie sweetened beverages do or do not affect the risk of heart disease and stroke.
But it states that water is the best choice for a no-calorie drink.
Dr Rachel Johnson, professor of nutrition emeritus at the University of Vermont, said: "Unfortunately, current research simply does not provide enough evidence to distinguish between the effects of different low-calorie sweeteners on heart and brain health.
"This study adds to the evidence that limiting use of diet beverages is the most prudent thing to do for your health."
There is a growing body of evidence that does suggest diet drinks are not good for your health.
Last year, scientists from Israel and Singapore warned six artificial sweeteners in the drinks are toxic to our gut bacteria - which could have a link with a range of diseases from obesity to bowel disease, even Alzheimer's.
Another study warned the drinks can increase the risk of diabetes.