JUST two diet drinks a day raises the risk of dying young by a quarter, a major study reveals.
And lovers of Diet Coke and Pepsi Max see their chances of being killed by a heart attack or stroke rocket by more than half, compared to those who avoid the stuff.
Experts said the “important” European findings – involving more than 450,000 people – were “concerning”.
They urged Brits to ditch soft drinks and switch to water.
The World Health Organisation research found the dangers from guzzling artificially sweetened pop were up to three times greater than regular sugary drinks.
Diet drinks ‘worse’
It suggests switching to sugar-free products – such as Diet Pepsi or Lucozade Zero – could be equally bad for health, if not worse.
The study was carried out by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in France, which is a part of the WHO.
Lead researcher Dr Neil Murphy said: “The striking observation in our study was that we found positive associations for both sugar-sweetened and artificially-sweetened soft drinks with risk of all-cause deaths.
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“It would probably be prudent to limit consumption of all soft drinks and replace with a healthier alternative, such as water.”
The take home message is drink water – certainly avoid sugar sweetened beverages and be cautious about artificially sweetened beverages
Professor Mitchell Elkind, incoming president at American Heart Association
The research tracked participants for 16 years – including Brits – and is the largest study of its kind.
It found chances of early death went up by eight per cent for those who consumed sugary drinks twice daily.
But for those glugging two glasses of diet pop each day, the risk went up by 26 per cent.
This group also saw their chance of being killed by cardiovascular disease rise by 52 per cent.
Take home message: ‘Drink water’
The damning findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, coincide with the largest gathering on heart experts in the world.
Speaking from the European Society of Cardiology congress in Paris, Professor Mitchell Elkind, incoming president of the American Heart Association urged people to ditch soft drinks.
He said: “This study is important.
“There are concerns about both sugar sweetened beverages and so-called diet beverages.
“There may be a direct impact [of diet drinks] – and other studies have suggested biological mechanisms may include an impact on insulin signalling in the liver.
“The take home message is drink water – certainly avoid sugar sweetened beverages and be cautious about artificially sweetened beverages.”
Not so sweet
Previous research suggests sweeteners may affect blood vessel health, dementia risk and also trigger weight gain.
One theory is that it affects the body’s sugar levels and key hormones, such as insulin.
But others claim unhealthy adults are more likely to turn to diet drinks, which may explain the findings.
Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This new research shows that people who regularly drink sweetened soft drinks have a slightly higher overall risk of dying as a result of heart and circulatory diseases.
“Where you can, stick with water and unsweetened tea or coffee, and keep soft drinks as a treat.”
Gavin Partington, Director General at British Soft Drinks Association, said: “Soft drinks are safe to consume as part of a balanced diet.
“According to all leading health authorities in the world, as well as Cancer Research UK and Diabetes UK, low- and no-calorie sweeteners are safe.”