The Bitter Side of Diet Soda: Strokes
Drinking diet soda is associated with a 50-percent increase in stroke risk, according to a study presented earlier this month at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference in Los Angeles.
Not surprisingly, reaction to the news among dieters has been disparaging and defensive, as each person cycles through the Kubler-Ross five stages of grief, from denial and anger to bargaining, depression and acceptance.
“Now the health police tell us we can’t drink Diet Coke,” captures the tone on many of the diet blogs.
If it’s any consolation for diet-soda fans, the results presented at the meeting — based on preliminary analysis from a 2,500-person subset of the ongoing Northern Manhattan Study (NOMAS) — are far from definitive. There’s no way to tell yet, for example, what ingredient would be associated with strokes or whether lifestyle choices among drinkers are the real cause.
That said, is drinking diet soda safe? Of course not, especially when it is the main source of liquid refreshment every day. You’re drinking copious amounts of phosphoric acid, artificial colors, artificial flavors, and some laboratory-crafted chemical that tricks your brain into perceiving the sensation of sweet.
Diet soda is an alternative to regular soda, but neither is healthy. You are merely trading calories from sugar for chemicals of questionable nature.
Hooked on sugar
The proliferation of diet soda cuts to the core of what’s wrong with the Western diet. The Western approach is to remove the most obvious dangers from an unhealthy habit — in this case, removing the 12 teaspoons of sugar per can of fizzy water laced with acids, colors and flavors of uncertain origin — so that we can continue that habit in denial of other dangers.
The underlying problem is that we are addicted to sugar; beverages without a sweetener now seem bland. For the first million years or so of pre-human and human existence, water was adequate to quench our thirst. But apparently no longer.
Hold the sugar and corn syrup and pass the aspartame. Some doctors actually encourage dieters to drink diet soda to cut calories instead of recommending zero-calorie water or tea.
We see this “short-cut” diet phenomenon also among some people who want to be vegetarian. They eat vegetarian hot dogs and other faux-meat dishes made from heavily processed soy and vegetable meal loaded with salt, sugar and fat. This is likely unhealthier than the meat they are shunning.
So, similarly, at issue is that we are so addicted to meat that meals without it no longer seem satiating. To do vegetarianism right, you’d have to learn how to cook lentils, beans, grains and other staples of a vegetariandiet, and that’s too consuming for many people.
Writing on the wall
Studies on diet soda have been flawed, because researchers have discounted one important fact: Those drinking diet soda likely drink it not because they are health nuts but because they have a certain health condition. They are either overweight or diabetic. Thus, they are at risk for strokes, heart attacks and cancer regardless of the type of beverage they prefer.
One of the more impressive aspects of the NOMAS project is that researchers can control for weight and other health conditions. It’s inevitable that NOMAS and similar studies will tease out the dangers of drinking too much soda in general, either diet or regular.
It is a shame the United States cannot adopt Asia’s tradition of unsweetened teas, ubiquitous in shops and vending machines. But even otherwise healthy green tea in the United States is tainted with sugar or artificial sweetener — yet another example of corrupting a healthy alternative.
The bottom line is that dieters need to cycle through those Kubler-Ross stages to reach acceptance: Diet soda is no healthy alternative, and nothing beats water.
7 Ways to Raise Your Risk of Stroke
Stroke is the number three killer in the United States, affecting almost 800,000 people each year, according to the National Stroke Association. These “brain attacks” occur when blood flow to the brain is interrupted (an ischemic stroke) or when a blood vessel in the brain leaks or bursts (a hemorrhagic stroke). For 144,000 people each year, the result is death. Hundreds of thousands of others are left with long-term disabilities.
Genetics, age and race play a role in stroke, as do many other factors, both controllable and uncontrollable. Recent research has teased out more and more of these risk factors, from how you eat to where you live.
Here’s what scientists are finding are top risks for a stroke:
7. High-fat diet
The same foods associated with heart attacks —red meat, anything fried — can also raise your risk of a brain attack. At the American Stroke Association’s (ASA) International Stroke Conference in February, researchers from the University of North Carolina presented findings that post-menopausal women who consumed high-fat diets had 40 percent more incidences of ischemic stroke than low-fat eaters. Trans fats, found in processed foods like pastries and crackers, seem particularly nasty: The group of women who consumed seven grams of trans fat each day had 30 percent more stroke incidents than those who ate one gram.
So what to eat instead? Multiple studies suggest that a Mediterranean-inspired diet can lower stroke risk. That means lots of vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil, nuts and seeds, and very little red meat and sweets.
6. Being single
If you’re a man who’d like to cut his chances of a fatal stroke, get hitched. A Tel Aviv University study of more than 10,000 Israeli men found that those who were married at midlife were 64 percent less likely to die of a stroke during the next 34 years than single men. The data was adjusted for other stroke risk factors like socioeconomic status, blood pressure and smoking.
But there’s a catch: The marriage has to be a happy one. Men who reported dissatisfying marriages were just as likely as single men to die of a stroke, the researchers reported at the ASA’s International Stroke Conference.
5. Being unhappy
Happiness is music to your cardiovascular system. Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston reported in 2001 that among older individuals, positive moods and attitudes protected against strokes. Even incremental increases in happiness helped: For every step up on the researchers’ happiness scale, male participants’ stroke risk dropped 41 percent. Women’s risk dropped 18 percent per happiness unit.
Even if you’re not happy, it might pay to act like you are. The researchers speculate thathappy people are more likely to get medical care, exercise and stay healthy, all protective factors against stroke.
4. Being obese
More weight means a higher risk of stroke, according to researchers from the University of Minnesota. In a study presented at the International Stroke Conference last month, researchers followed more than 13,000 Americans for 19 years and found that the risk of stroke in people with the highest body mass index (BMI) was 1.43 to 2.12 times higher than in those with the lowest body mass index. (BMI is calculated with a person’s height and weight and is considered an indicator of body fatness.)
The reason for the correlation is that some stroke risk factors are worsened by obesity, study co-author Hiroshi Yatsuya said in a statement. The biggest culprits, according to the data are high blood pressure and diabetes.
Lighting up nearly doubles your risk of stroke, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Fortunately, quitting can drop that risk back down, even for heavy smokers. One 1988 study found that former smokers had the same rate of stroke as nonsmokers five years after snuffing their last cigarette.
2. Being born in the wrong demographic (for a stroke)
Unfortunately, not all risk factors are under your control. Blacks have twice the incidence of strokes as whites, according to the AHA. Not only that, but the death rate from stroke is significantly higher for blacks than the overall stroke death rate. Part of the disparity may be explained by higher-than-average rates of diabetes and high blood pressure among blacks.
Being female can also put you at a disadvantage when it comes to stroke. In a study presented at ASA’s International Stroke Conference, University of Southern California researchers reported that women aged 35 to 64 are almost three times as likely to have a stroke as men of the same age. The reason may be that women in midlife carry moreabdominal fat than men, a risk factor for stroke, said the researchers.
1. Being a born-and-bred Southerner
The swath of stroke-prone states across the Southeastern United States — generally including North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama — have long been known as the “Stroke Belt.” But recent research suggests that just being born and spending your childhood in one of these states raises your risk for stroke, even if you move away later.
In a study published in the journal Neurology in 2009, Harvard public health professor Maria Glymour and her colleagues reported that among blacks, being born in the Stroke Belt increased the risk of stroke by 22 percent. For whites, the number was 30 percent. Part of the reason may be due to risk factors like poor diet, smoking and obesity, which may start earlier in southern states, Glymour told LiveScience.
“By the time that they’re middle-aged and we’re enrolling them in our studies, it looks like lots of people have those risk factors,” she said. “But maybe people in the South have been carrying them for longer.”
10 Easy Paths to Self Destruction
Last year, at least 400,000 Americans managed to kill themselves based almost solely on what they ate. Heart disease is the country’s number one killer and, while some of that comes from genetics, most of it’s due to the fat-laden, sugar-heavy junk we put in our bodies. Looking for the most effective, probably most enjoyable way to do yourself in? Have another doughnut. And make it cream-filled!
They don’t call them cancer sticks for nothing: Tobacco-related illnesses are America’s number two killer, and the most preventable. But if you’re bent on putting the kibosh to healthy living, go ahead and light up; just one cigarette will immediately increase your blood pressure and decrease the circulation to your extremities. Imagine what you could do with a pack.
Not only is television entertaining, it can keep us on the couch for hours at a time several days per week. The average American spends a full 9 years of his life glued to the boob tube, years that could otherwise be spent exercising. Resist the urge! Being an obese, sedentary TV-addicted couch potato makes for speedy self-destruction, though you may be a little smarter (if you watch those nerdy science channels).
Creating more stress in your life is a great way to invite all kinds of diseases to attack the body. When you’re chronically stressed, the adrenal glands are forced to work overtime and eventually exhaust themselves, inhibiting the immune system. So go ahead and worry about everything from the color of your socks to whether dinner will be ready on time. Your hormones won’t know what hit them.
The occasional drink of alcohol, especially wine, can be beneficial to your health, many studies suggest. But if you’re looking to do yourself in, overdo the two-drink-per-day limit and imbibe heartily. Besides alcoholism of course, too much booze causes liver damage, diabetes and is the root cause of nearly 100,000 deaths per year.
If people wanted to increase their chance of surviving ’til a ripe old age, they’d fly everywhere. Driving kills more people aged 1 to 35 than anything else, a statistic that could drop to near zero if everyone just stayed home. But how fun would that be? So hit the road, forget the speed limit, yak on your cell phone?or worse, eat?and don’t buckle up if you’re anxious to become part of this popular statistic.
Most people agree that sex in itself isn’t so bad, it’s how you do it that could mean life or death. The smart self-destructor doesn’t use protection, ignores the partner’s sexual history and shuns the annual medical exam. Twelve million Americans contract sexually transmitted diseases every year, many of which can leave the victim infertile. Killing yourself and preventing new births: there?s a two-fer!
Reading, doing crosswords and tackling sudokus are all risky behaviors if you’re looking to avoid Alzheimer’s. The degenerative brain disease attacks almost everyone who lives long enough, though mind games and puzzles are known to ward off the effects.
Many Americans agree that their health is hardly worth finding thirty minutes among 526,000 for that once-per-year physical exam. It’s a good tactic if early disease detection and important medical consultation are going to get in the way of your Tommy Lee lifestyle. If you don’t want to hear the doctor tell you our other tips for self-destruction are unhealthy, just don’t go.
Inadequate sleep (less than 7 or 8 hours a night) has been tied to many different health problems, including obesity, diabetes and cancer. Mental fatigue is also as big of a risk factor for vehicular accidents as alcohol. And just think of all the time you’d have for destructive behavior if you shunned the zzz’s altogether!