We’re all familiar with the notion that drinking soda isn’t good for our health, and it’s obviously because of the excessive amount of sugar the drink contains. We know it can contribute to weight gain, cause dental issues and increase diabetes risk. As if that wasn’t bad enough, new research suggests that sugary drinks can do something even worse, that is, damage our brain and make it age faster. Specifically, those who frequently consume sugary drinks are more likely to have poorer memory, a smaller hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory), and a smaller brain volume in general.
Drinking artificially sweetened drinks is no better. Apparently, these drinks increase a person’s risk of suffering from stroke or developing dementia.
Two separate studies were conducted to arrive at these conclusions. And both derived their data from the Framingham Heart Study – a joint collaborative project of Boston University and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute that began in 1948, and was primarily designed to identify the factors that contribute to the incidence of cardiovascular disease.
One study revealed that people who drank one or more sugary drinks daily had a smaller brain volume (as shown on MRI scans), did worse on memory tests and showed signs of accelerated brain aging.
For the second study, the research team looked at the data of 2,888 adults over 45 whom they measured for stroke risk, and 1,484 adults over 60, whom they measured for dementia risk. They analyzed how many sugary and artificially sweetened beverages the subjects drank at different periods between 1991 and 2001. Then they compared the data with how many of the subjects suffered from dementia or stroke over the next 10 years.
The results showed that people who regularly drank artificially sweetened beverages were three times more likely to have a stroke or be diagnosed with dementia. The researchers believe that the substances contained by artificial sweeteners, notably aspatame and saccharine, might be affecting the blood vessels, and this is what increases the likelihood of having a stroke or developing dementia. Surprisingly, the team did not find any correlation between sugary drink consumption and dementia or stroke.
While these studies demonstrate a link between sugary beverages and changes in the brain, as well as diet drinks and increased risk for stroke and dementia, it doesn’t automatically mean that one causes the other. For instance, those who regularly drank artificially sweetened beverages might be more likely to get dementia, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the cause of this increased risk are those drinks. And in the case of sugary beverages, more research needs to be done to determine for sure if the sugary drinks actually causes damage to the brain and if so, how much of the damage the drinks cause.
Although there are many other factors that need to be considered, at the very least, the studies provide further confirmation that there’s not much benefit that can be gained from drinking sugary beverages, more so from artificially sweetened ones. When you’re thirsty, just opt for water — it’s still the best drink there is.