New study shows link between artificially sweetened diet drinks and atrial fibrillation risk

Before grabbing that sweetened beverage, particularly if it’s artificially sweetened, you might want to reconsider, according to a recent analysis.

Researchers delved into data from the U.K. Biobank and uncovered a concerning association between frequent consumption of sweetened drinks — be they naturally sweet like juice or artificially sweetened like diet soda — and an elevated risk of irregular heart rhythm, known as atrial fibrillation. Their findings were published in Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology, a journal of the American Heart Association.

Lead study author Ningjian Wang, from the Shanghai Ninth People’s Hospital and Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine in China, emphasized the heightened risk posed by artificially sweetened drinks.

“Our study reveals that consuming more than two liters (about 67 ounces) per week of sugar-sweetened beverages is linked with a 10 percent risk of incident atrial fibrillation compared to non-consumers, regardless of traditional risk factors,” Wang explained. “This figure increases to 20 percent for individuals consuming more than two liters per week of artificially sweetened beverages, surpassing the risk associated with an equivalent amount of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption.”

Wang noted that the health risks of artificially sweetened beverages have been relatively under-researched, prompting his team to classify sweetened drinks into three categories.

The first category included drinks with added sugar, such as white sugar, sucrose, and fructose syrup, commonly found in non-diet soda and fruit juice blends.

The second category comprised freshly squeezed fruit juices with no added sugar. While limited intake of natural fruit juice can offer vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, Wang highlighted that consuming less than one liter per week was associated with an 8 percent reduced risk of atrial fibrillation. However, there was no protective effect observed for consuming more than one liter per week of these drinks.

The third category encompassed drinks with artificial sweeteners like sucralose, aspartame, and acesulfame, often favored for their sweetness with fewer calories. Nevertheless, these synthetic compounds are not without their risks.

Wang cautioned that while the study found a correlation, it did not establish causation. Nonetheless, the findings strongly suggest that reducing sweet drink consumption is a wise choice.

“We urge individuals to be mindful of their consumption habits,” Wang advised. “Early identification of risk factors such as an unhealthy diet and taking proactive measures can effectively reduce disease burden in the future.”

This underscores the importance of managing risk factors, particularly given that the prevalence of atrial fibrillation (A-fib) rises with age.

Nikhil Warrier, a cardiac electrophysiologist and medical director of electrophysiology at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in California, who was not involved in the study, highlighted the prevalence of A-fib among different age groups. While approximately 2% of individuals under 65 years old experience A-fib, this figure increases to about 9% among those aged 65 and older.

“The most common symptom associated with AFib is fatigue,” Warrier explained. “Patients may also report palpitations or a rapid or irregular heartbeat. Shortness of breath may occur with rapid heart rates or congestive failure, which could be linked to A-fib.”

Given the potential seriousness of any condition affecting heart function, it’s crucial to recognize the increased risk of stroke associated with atrial fibrillation. Heart failure and atrial fibrillation are also closely intertwined.

Source: Medical News Today