Do you think it’s healthier to drink diet soda? Doctors say that may not be the case. They actually found that drinking diet soda can increase your risk for certain diseases that sugar-sweetened drinks don’t!

The Hidden Dangers of Sugary Drinks

That commercial-colored, fun label on that can in the vending machine might look appealing and friendly to drink because of the company endorsement. But it’s giving you a false sense of security – that multi-colored can’s contents can be just as deadly as eating a fatty steak.

New research finds that 184,000 adults around the world die from drinking sugary drinks (excluding 100 percent fruit juice). These are mostly due to diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Most of these deaths are within the younger demographics, where artificial sugary drinks are more popular.

Switching to Diet Soda Might Not Be Better

Even if you’re aware of the dangers of sugary sodas and try to be responsible by switching to diet soda, it might not save your health that much. Researchers found a correlation between drinking artificially sweetened drinks (like diet sodas that use lower-calorie sweeteners) and dementia and stroke. But they were surprised they didn’t find a correlation between stroke and dementia and drinking normal soda and sugary commercial drinks, like soda sweetened with natural sugar.

These researchers found that drinking one diet soda a day increases your risk for developing dementia and an ischemic stroke by 300 percent. But if you only drink between one to six diet sodas in the span of seven days, you don’t have an increased risk for developing dementia, but still are 260 percent more likely to have an ischemic stroke caused by blocked blood vessels.

The good news is that the researchers only studied people 45 and up. That means that diet soda probably isn’t as harmful to you if you’re below middle age.

Possible Explanations for Diet Soda’s Deleterious Effects

The researchers only found a link between artificially sweetened drinks and these increased risks. They’re still not sure how diet soda is causing harm to your brain. Neurology professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Dr. Ralph Sacco, says that the chemicals in the artificially sweetened drinks may be destroying blood vessels.

He says that dementia and strokes can be caused by hardening of the blood vessels. He theorizes that artificially sweetened drinks gradually contribute to vascular disease.

Another possible mechanism is that diet soda makes you eat more. When your body tastes something sweet, it activates a neural pathway in your brain that makes you want to keep eating it. But, when your body digests the carbs from natural sugars, it activates a reward pathway in your brain that sates you and stops the craving.

But when you drink a diet soda with zero-calorie sweeteners, you’re tasting something sweet but there are no calories to sate the cravings it causes. You end up seeking carbs from other sources to fill in what’s missing – and that may lead to overeating, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and dementia in the long term.

Even if you can control your carbs and enjoy diet soda, it may still be harming your blood vessels in other ways. It’s best to cut any kind of unhealthy commercial drink from your everyday diet and stick to natural fruit juices, which are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Try refrigerated grape juice with your next meal – you might not notice a difference!