Diet Dr Pepper

Try Not to Have a Stroke About Sweeteners

“That stuff can’t be good for you.” Diet soda is a fizzy elixir that people love to hate. And so this week, we have yet another round of studies and pseudo-scientific PR pitching “links” as evidence of cause and effect. The scare theme this week is artificial sweeteners will give you a stroke.

The Study Behind the Headlines

Researchers from Boston University Medical Center dipped into the data vault of the Framingham Heart Study to examine the association between sweet beverages and the risk of stroke and dementia. They found 91 cases of stroke and 81 cases of dementia. Their analysis suggest an association of artificial sweeteners with stroke and dementia. They found no links for sugar-sweetened beverages. They published their study in Stroke yesterday.

The authors call it “intriguing,” but concede:

Because our study was observational, we are unable to determine whether artificially sweetened soft drink intake increased the risk of incident dementia through diabetes mellitus or whether people with diabetes mellitus were simply more likely to consume diet beverages.

In other words, they found an association and have no idea whether it means anything.

Now for the Pseudo-Scientific PR

Based on the prevailing bias that this stuff must be bad for you, generating a media frenzy about artificial sweeteners is easy peazy. Boston University Medical Center’s PR group pulled together a press release and proclaimed:

Daily consumption of sodas, fruit juices and artificially sweetened sodas affect brain.

We’re pretty sure that they just claimed a cause and effect relationship that the science specifically does not support. They also danced around the fact that their study found nothing – not even an association – linking sugar-sweetened beverages to dementia or stroke. Rather than mention that inconvenient finding, they linked back to an earlier study in a different journal.

We call that cherry-picking, not scientific objectivity. Cut it out, guys.

Click here for the study in Stroke. Click here for the prior study, published in Alzheimer’s and Dementia. For more expert commentary on this research, click here.

Diet Dr Pepper, photograph © dbkfrog / flickr

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April 21, 2017