Artificially Sweetened Drinks May Increase AFib Risk by 20%, Study Finds

Artificially Sweetened Drinks May Increase AFib Risk by 20%, Study Finds
  • A new observational study linked artificially sweetened beverages with a 20% increase in atrial fibrillation risk.
  • The same study associated pure fruit or vegetable juice with an 8% lower atrial fibrillation risk.
  • Experts recommend limiting or avoiding sweetened beverages for heart health.

Drinking artificially sweetened beverages, like Diet Coke or Crystal Light, might increase atrial fibrillation (AFib) risk, according to a new observational study. AFib, or an irregular heartbeat, is a common condition that can lead to stroke, heart failure, and blood clots.

The new study included 10 years of data from 201,856 individuals. People who drank at least 2 liters of artificially sweetened beverages each week—less than one standard 12oz can of soda per day—had a 20% higher risk of AFib. Drinking the same amount of sugar-sweetened beverages was associated with a 10% increased AFib risk.

AFib is estimated to impact over 12 million Americans by 2030. Age, high blood pressure, obesity, alcohol consumption, and smoking increase the risk of developing AFib.

“Based on the results of the study reported, it seems prudent to decrease consumption of artificially sweetened drinks to lower risk of AFib, especially in persons at high risk due to a strong family history of AFib, but also in the general public, given the projected increase in AFib prevalence in the future,” Penny M. Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD, FAHA, emeritus professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State University, told Verywell in an email. 

The new study does not prove that sweetened beverages cause AFib. However, other studies have also linked these drinks with poor health outcomes. A large 2022 observational study found that artificial sweeteners in food and drink were linked to a 9% higher risk of heart problems.

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Research has also associated artificially sweetened and sugar-sweetened beverages with type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and death.

“We know that there are a lot of negative effects associated with artificial sweeteners. It’s really quite provocative, but I do think it’s real,” Larry Chinitz, MD, director of the Heart Rhythm Center at NYU Langone Heart, told Verywell.

100% Fruit Juice Linked to Lower AFib Risk

Natural sugar seems to be a healthier alternative to artificial sweeteners, according to the new study. Drinking about 1 liter of pure fruit and vegetable juice per week was associated with an 8% lower AFib.

Lena Beal, MS, RDN, LD, a cardiovascular dietitian at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital, told Verywell in an email that 100% fruit juice contains vitamin C and other antioxidants that are linked to lower blood pressure, reduced oxidative stress, and reduced inflammation. All these can lead to a lower risk of AFib.

However, pure fruit juice can have as much sugar as sweetened beverages. More research is needed to prove that pure fruit juice can lower AFib risk. Research also suggests that whole fruit is better for heart health than pure fruit juice, especially since whole fruit contains fiber that can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Chinitz said the study might have found a connection between pure fruit juice and reduced risk of AFib because people who opt for juice over artificially sweetened beverages may make additional lifestyle decisions that help reduce AFib risk.

“If people are healthy and they’re drinking natural types of juices and they’re not using large doses of additional sugar or artificial sweeteners, maybe those lifestyle choices also relate to weight, exercise, healthy living, alcohol, caffeine,” Chinitz said.

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Other Factors That Can Reduce AFib Risk

Genetics, infection, and aging can all increase AFib risk, so you can’t prevent the condition just by changing your beverage preference.

However, the American Heart Association published a scientific statement in 2020 acknowledging that lifestyle interventions can help people manage AFib, even though more studies are needed.

“They don’t necessarily eliminate the problem, but they certainly can help,” Chinitz said.

Heart-healthy lifestyle changes like managing stress, being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, reducing alcohol consumption, and quitting smoking can help lower the risk.

“AFib nowadays is amongst the most common cardiac things that we deal with. You can’t get away from recognizing the importance of a healthy lifestyle, which includes diet and exercise,” Chinitz said. “There’s no question that excessive sugar and even these artificial sweeteners are just not healthy. So caution about that.”

Takeaway Note

The new observational study does not prove a causal relationship between artificially sweetened beverages and AFib risk. However, based on the findings, researchers recommend reducing the consumption of artificially sweetened and sugar-sweetened beverages whenever possible.


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