Bombshell new study links artificially sweetened beverages to heart arrhythmias

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atrial-fibrillation(NaturalHealth365)  Millions of Americans have consumed artificially sweetened beverages as part of their daily routine for decades.  Unfortunately, for too many people, the premise behind these popular low-calorie drinks is hard to resist.  Artificial sweeteners – aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame, and saccharin – are intended to allow consumers to enjoy all the appealing sweetness of sugar – with practically none of the calories.  But are these low- and no-calorie drinks really a “golden ticket” on the road to a healthy body weight?

Holistic physicians and informed nutritionists have long warned that artificial nonnutritive sweeteners used in sodas and juices can trigger a variety of ills, including disturbances in the gut microbiome and – ironically – weight gain.  Now, a new British analysis of data reveals a frightening link between diet drinks and a type of irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation.  (This research might just help you reconsider your relationship with diet drinks!)

WARNING: Atrial fibrillation sends odds of a stroke skyrocketing

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over three million Americans are currently affected by atrial fibrillation.  Also known as A-fib, atrial fibrillation can cause a rapid, pounding, fluttery heartbeat, along with shortness of breath, dizziness, fatigue, and lightheadedness.  While not usually life-threatening itself, A-fib increases the risk of dangerous strokes by fivefold – while also raising the risk of blood clots and heart failure.  According to statistics released this year by the American Heart Association (AHA), the number of people affected by A-fib will hit an astonishing total of 12 million by the year 2030.

A-fib can be caused by a variety of factors, including structural problems in the heart, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease.  Nicotine, stimulant drugs, caffeine, and excessive alcohol may also trigger it.  And now – as the latest research suggests – artificial sweeteners could be yet another culprit.

Artificially sweetened beverages are linked with an increased risk of atrial fibrillation

The review – published in Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Heart Association – involved over 201,000 participants aged 37 to 73.  Researchers said their study was the first to evaluate the association between artificially sweetened beverages and atrial fibrillation.  After extensive analysis, the team concluded that people who drank more than two liters (roughly six twelve-ounce cans) of artificially sweetened drinks a week experienced a disturbing 20 percent higher risk of developing A-fib when compared to people who drank no artificially sweetened drinks.

Apparently, it’s not necessary to guzzle down large amounts of diet drinks to raise your risk of irregular heartbeat.  Study co-author Penny M. Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., an emeritus professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State University, noted that two liters a week equals a mere can a day of diet soda – and acknowledged being “surprised” by the findings.  By the way, sugar-sweetened beverages aren’t off the hook either.  The research revealed that drinking two liters a week of sugar-sweetened beverages carried a 10 percent higher risk of A-fib as well.  (Of course, sugary beverages have already been linked in earlier research with a heightened risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay).

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When it came to recommendations, the researchers didn’t pull any punches.  Lead author Ningjian Wang, M.D., Ph.D., a researcher at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, warned that both artificially sweetened and sugar-sweetened beverages should be “limited or avoided whenever possible.”

Are diet drinks the “lesser of two evils?”  Not necessarily!

Where do health authorities stand on the issue of artificially sweetened drinks?  In a 2018 advisory, the American Heart Association advised that while low-calorie sweetened beverages shouldn’t be consumed in large quantities by children, they might still be a “useful replacement strategy” for adults who habitually drink a high number of sugary drinks.  (However, the results of the latest study may have them backpedaling on this advice!).

As for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the agency maintains that the evidence on the role of low-calorie artificially sweetened beverages is “unclear.”  The USDA’s 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest, however, that sugar-sweetened beverages be “minimized.”

Incidentally, the World Health Organization (WHO) made the decision in 2018 to classify aspartame as possibly carcinogenic to humans, placing it in the same category as breathing engine exhaust or dry cleaning fumes.

Craft your own fruity, refreshing concoctions

If you’re ready to eliminate both sugar-laden beverages and synthetic-tasting artificially flavored drinks, we have good news for you: an array of refreshing alternatives exists.  Dilute your favorite pure, unsweetened fruit juice – cranberry, cherry, or Concord grape – with sparkling water, using a one-to-three ratio, and take care that the sparkling water is also free of added sugars.  The resultant drink is light, bubbly, colorful, and fruity – and won’t raise your risk of atrial fibrillation.

In fact, the new study also revealed that drinking a liter or less of pure unsweetened fruit juice a week is associated with an 8 percent lower risk of A-fib.  To keep things even simpler, just float some sliced lemon, lime, cucumbers, or berries in a pitcher of ice-cold pure filtered water and sip away all day.  (Naturally, investing in a high-quality home water filter is an excellent decision.)

Unsweetened iced coffee or tea can be a decent options (as long as caffeine isn’t an issue for you).  You can also savor herbal teas such as hibiscus or mint.  Homemade fruit or vegetable smoothies are another good choice, as is electrolyte-rich, unsweetened coconut water.

As study co-author Dr. Ningjian Wang puts it, “Do not take it for granted that drinking … low-calorie artificially sweetened beverages is healthy.”  He warns, “It may pose potential health risks.”

Doubtless, a higher chance of atrial fibrillation is a health risk we can all do without.  So, if this is an important issue for you, start making changes today.

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