If you think drinking diet soda instead of regular soda could protect you from a stroke, think again new research shows that drinking a diet soda every day raises your risk of stroke and heart attack, compared with people who don't drink any soda.

Researchers found that people who drank diet soda every day had a 61 percent higher risk of blood vessel diseases, such as stroke and heart attack, than those who reported not drinking any soda (diet or regular) at all.

"If our results are confirmed with future studies, then it would suggest that diet soda may not be the optimal substitute for sugar-sweetened beverages for protection against vascular outcomes," study researcher Hannah Gardener, an epidemiologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Florida, said in a statement.

And in a separate study, Gardener and her colleagues found that high salt intake was also linked with an increased risk of stroke.

People who consumed more than 4,000 milligrams of sodium per day had more than double the risk of stroke than those who consumed less than 1,500 mg per day, the study said.

The two studies were presented today (Feb. 9) at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference in Los Angeles.

Diet soda stroke risks

In the soda study, researchers asked 2,564 people who were part of the multiethnic Northern Manhattan Study how often they drank soda and what kind they drank.

Based on the data, researchers grouped participants into soda-consumption categories including those who drank no soda, moderate soda drinkers and daily soda drinkers.

After about nine years, 559 strokes and heart attacks had occurred, according to the study.

People who drank diet soda every day were 61 percent more likely to suffer from a stroke or heart attack than non-soda drinkers. Even after researchers accounted for patients' metabolic syndrome, peripheral vascular disease and heart disease history, the diet soda drinkers' risk was 48 percent higher than non-soda drinkers.

High sodium risks

In the sodium study, researchers asked 2,657 people about their dietary habits. After about 10 years of follow-up, 187 ischemic strokes were reported, the study said. Ischemic strokes occur when a blocked artery causes brain tissue to die due to a lack of blood flow and oxygen (hemorrhagic strokes involve bleeding in the brain).

Stroke risk increased 16 percent for every 500 mg of sodium consumed a day, according to researchers.

Only one-third of participants met the current U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans that recommend daily sodium intake fall below 2,300 mg, equivalent to about 1 teaspoon of salt, Gardener said. Only 12 percent of subjects met the American Heart Association's recommendations to consume less than 1,500 mg a day. The average intake of participants was 3,031 mg, the study said.

"The take-home message is that high sodium intake is a risk factor for ischemic stroke among people with hypertension, as well as among those without hypertension, underscoring the importance of limiting consumption of high sodium foods for stroke prevention," Gardener said.

Pass it on: Drinking a diet soda every day and consuming a diet high in salt is linked with an increased risk of stroke.

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