your connection to The Boston Globe

Heart risk same for diet soda drinkers

People who drank more than one diet soda each day developed the same risks for heart disease as those who downed sugary regular soda, a large but inconclusive study found.

The results surprised the researchers, who expected to see a difference between regular and diet soda drinkers. It could be, they suggest, that even no-calorie sweet drinks increase the craving for more sweets, and that people who drink sodas probably have less-healthy diets overall.

The study's senior author, Dr. Vasan Ramachandran of Boston University, emphasized that the findings don't show diet sodas are a cause of increased heart-disease risks. But he said they show a surprising link that must be studied.

However, a nutrition specialist dismissed the study's findings on diet soda drinkers.

"There's too much contradictory evidence that shows that diet beverages are healthier for you in terms of losing weight that I would not put any credence to the result" on the diet drinks, said Barry Popkin of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill .

The researchers found that those who drank more than one soda per day -- diet or regular -- had an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, compared with those who drank less than one soda. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of symptoms that increase the risk for heart disease including large waistlines and higher levels of blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides.