Is Consumption Of Diet Soda Linked To Dementia?

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 3, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Diet soda has been a popular drink for many for a long time. It generally contains zero, or very little, calories, which many people might view as a significant perk. What most consumers don’t love, though, is diet soda’s alleged potential for causing harm. 

Many times, the cause of these accusations is linked to the ingredient aspartame, which is regarded by many as the artificial sweetener used in many diet sodas. 

While the full extent of what kind of risks diet soda may pose are still objectively unclear at the time of this article’s publication, recent research exploring the connection between artificial sweeteners and dementia suggest that it may be worth digging a little deeper. 

Overall, diet soda in moderation seems unlikely to pose a serious risk for many, but it can still be helpful to be informed about what you put into your body so you can make the right decision for you.

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What is diet soda? Types, ingredients, & more

Diet soda is a soda that can be flavored using artificial sweeteners. These artificial sweeteners generally contain no real sugar. Sugar can contribute to most of the calories in soda, so by taking it away, companies can produce a product that’s at or close to zero calories. This can be helpful for those who might be trying to be calorie-conscious. 

When we think of an artificially sweetened beverage, we may think of things like Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi—but diet soda is regarded by many to have started in the early 1950s through No-Cal, a ginger-ale drink. The drink wasn't necessarily created for those who wanted to lose weight, but rather it was generally designed to support the taste and preferences of people living with diabetes. 

Eventually, other artificially sweetened beverages were created, including Diet Rite. It wasn't until over a decade later that Coca-Cola joined the fray, but their first diet drink on the record was Tab, not Diet Coke. Pepsi then created its flagship version in 1963. Originally, their drink was called Patio Diet Cola—but then renamed to the Diet Pepsi we know today.

The belief that diet sodas may be linked to health effects was generally popularized in the late 1990s through internet chain emails claiming that aspartame could lead to multiple health effects. Since then, the idea of artificially sweetened beverages being dangerous to you has still been front of mind for many— even if aspartame has been phased out in some instances.


What is dementia? Types, treatments, & more

Dementia is not generally considered to be the name of a disease, but rather an umbrella term to describe disorders that can affect cognitive functions. 

Perhaps the most well-known form of dementia for many is Alzheimer's disease, where the mind can gradually break down over time. This can lead to impairment, forgetting self and family, and, in most cases—eventual death. Alzheimer's counts for about 70% of all dementia cases.

Many have found that the precise cause of Alzheimer's and other types of dementia is still not fully and objectively understood. There may be genetic factors at play, and there may be certain lifestyle choices that can increase the risk for multiple conditions that can be classified as dementia. 

Therefore, the claim that artificially sweetened beverages can increase your risk is a bold one—and is likely worth exploring using reputable, scientific, and objective sources.

What the research says

In April 2017, the American Heart Association's journal, Stroke, published a study involving almost 3,000 adults over 45 and about 1,500 adults over 60. They asked the adults about their dietary habits, and then followed up with them over the course of 10 years, still asking about their habits.

They concluded that those who had just one artificially sweetened beverage a day might be at three times the risk for stroke than those who drank less than one diet drink a week. They did adjust for other factors as well, but the study results did not specify what kind of artificial sweetener was used.

This observation can be a bit eye-opening, nonetheless. 

It can be important to remember that correlation does not necessarily imply causation. A link between artificially sweetened beverage use and increased risk of stroke does not necessarily mean one causes the other; as there may be hidden factors at play that may—in addition to or as a result of the presence of artificial sweeteners—create this effect.

Also, although the study did adjust for certain factors, there are still other factors that they may not have evaluated—such as race, health risks, family history and a few others.

The study also covered a relatively small group of people by the standard of other similar studies. Compared to the population of the United States, 4,500 people may not be as big of a sample size as it can initially seem—and it may not be wide enough to draw widespread conclusions.

Many have found that overall, the study does not necessarily conclude that artificially sweetened beverages cause dementia—but instead, that there could be an association between some people who had strokes and dementia and those who drank diet sodas.

Potential consumption effects: Weight gain

Even if the evidence linking artificially sweetened beverages to dementia is mixed, there are some other reasons why diet soda may not be good for you—and one such reason is that diet soda may cause you to gain weight.

This may seem surprising to many. After all, many people might drink artificially sweetened beverages because they want to lose weight. Soda can add hundreds of calories to your meal, so taking that off can certainly add up and potentially help some people lose weight. However, some studies say drinking diet soda can cause you to gain weight. How can this be?

There have been some speculative reasons offered by many for this phenomenon. One reason that this occurs can be that soda consumption can stimulate your appetite.

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Another reason may be that people overestimate the benefits of cutting out soda. They may think they can eat a little more, so they might consume enough calories to tip the balance in the other direction. 

If weight loss is your goal, it can be important to keep an eye on your calorie intake to ensure it’s at a level that helps you stay in a deficit while still giving your body enough fuel. You may also want to try replacing soda with water, as this can help you lose weight in a possibly healthier, more sustainable way. 

Though one or two artificially sweetened beverages every once in a while won’t generally hurt most, it’s likely not the best option to turn to if you’re trying to lose weight or if you’re looking for a diet-friendly drink. 

While it may offer another beverage option that can help keep you on track with your goals if you’re craving something sweet, its purpose is not necessarily to act as a weight loss tool. 

Seeking help through online therapy: Is it worth it?

If you want to change your dietary habits, have a loved one going through dementia or otherwise might benefit from having someone to talk to, you may want to reach out to a licensed therapist. A therapist can help those who want to accomplish their goals do so safely and effectively, generally putting one’s mental health at the forefront of treatment. 

Getting professional support can be simple for many, especially if they use resources such as online therapy. When you connect with a therapist online, you can save yourself time and money that you might otherwise spend going to and from in-person appointments. You can also join sessions from your own home, which can make the experience feel much more comfortable and approachable for many.

Research generally supports online therapy’s ability to be effective for most who pursue it. One recent review of several studies focused on online cognitive behavioral therapy found it was a more cost-effective option than traditional therapy for many. It also noted that online therapy options could be just as effective as in-person therapy for treating mental health symptoms, specifically those related to depression. Justification for this hypothesis was taken over the quantitative, patient-reported results over a series of several studies. 


To summarize, there may be a link between diet soda and dementia—but concrete evidence to support an answer is considered by many to still be unknown. However, diet soda may lead to weight gain and other ill health effects. If you have any questions or concerns about your health, it's generally best to speak to a doctor. If you’re looking for support as you navigate psychological or personal health concerns, online therapy can help. BetterHelp can connect you with an online therapist in your area of need.
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