Drinks sweetened with artificial or real sugar could both be linked to heart problems

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Reaching for a low-calorie artificially sweetened drink, versus one made with real sugar, might not be the healthy alternative you’re looking for.

A research letter in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology associates both types of beverages — those with sugar and those with a sugar substitute — with a higher risk of heart disease.

And one local cardiologist suggests it’s always better to choose beverages that are not sweetened in any way.

The study surveyed over 100,000 participants who recorded their food intake at least three times over a period of six months.

“There was somewhere in the range of a 20 to 35% higher risk of having a heart event if you use these beverages compared to folks who didn’t,” said Dr. Allen J. Taylor, chair of cardiology at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

The findings were based on someone having just a single can every other day of an artificially sweetened beverage.

“If you’re drinking that little, you should be looking for alternatives, fruit juices — although they have a lot of sugar and calories you have to be cautious there — water or other beverages,” Taylor advised.

The study does not find that artificially sweetened drinks cause heart problems, but it adds to research already suggesting associations.

“They really have a significant increase on stroke and early evidence suggests more dementia. So, there’s something going on here with these beverages that is not overall good for folks,” Taylor said.

The tipping point in the new study to be considered in the “high consumer” range, increasing risk for heart disease, is having more than one serving a week of an artificially sweetened drink — causing Taylor to emphasize, “Trying to find alternatives to sugary beverages that aren’t low calorie sweetened beverages is what we should be doing.”

Offering advice of a more general nature, Taylor said it’s always good to substitute healthy choices.

“So, drink water, exercise, get plenty or rest, go see your doctor regularly,” he said.