A new study found that those who drink too many artificially sweetened drinks — including diet soda — have a 20% higher risk of developing an irregular heart rhythm known as atrial fibrillation, or AFib.

By the American Heart Association, or AHA, the study emphasized that drinking two liters (roughly 67 ounces) or more of artificially sweetened beverages per week leads to a higher risk of AFib. The risk goes up 10% more among those who drink sugar-sweetened drinks at the same amount.

In addition, it found that consuming one liter (roughly 34 ounces) or less of unsweetened juice was correlated to an 8% lower risk of AFib.

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Further information of the research

The study looked at 2006-2010 data of over 200,000 U.K. participants from ages 37 to 73 — 45% of which were male.

From its findings, those who drank artificially sweetened beverages were more than likely younger, female and hold a high body mass index; those who drank sugar-sweetened beverages were more than likely younger, male and hold a higher body mass index.

Additionally, those who smoked and consumed over two liters of sugary drinks had the highest risk of developing AFib at 31%, per the New York Post.

According to CNN, the results could only show an association — and not a causation — between sweetened drinks and risk of AFib. However, the relationship remained after “accounting for any genetic susceptibility to the condition.”

The genetic risk of AFib is further supported by a 2017 study published by the AHA, finding that those with European ancestry have a 22% risk of inheriting it.

Study author Ningjian Wang shared in a statement, “Our study’s findings cannot definitively conclude that one beverage poses more health risk than another due to the complexity of our diets and because some people may drink more than one type of beverage.”

Wang added, “However, based on these findings, we recommend that people reduce or even avoid artificially sweetened and sugar-sweetened beverages whenever possible.”

What is AFib?

Atrial fibrillation, according to Mayo Clinic, is an irregular heart rhythm — an arrhythmia — that is often rapid. It occurs when the heart’s upper chambers, or atrium, chaotically beat out of sync with the heart’s lower chambers, or ventricles.

Per Johns Hopkins Medicine, blood can pool in the atrium of a person with AFib, potentially leading to blood clots and strokes — ultimately leading to heart failure.

Mayo Clinic said that some people with AFib may not detect symptoms, but symptoms of it include:

  • Chest pain.
  • Fast, pounding heartbeats (palpitations).
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Reduced ability to exercise.
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The Heart Rhythm Society stated that 40 million worldwide, including 6 million in the U.S., currently have AFib. It’s expected that around 12 million Americans will have the condition by 2030.

If it’s detected, AFib can be treated by lifestyle changes and medications, reported the National Institute of Health. However, if it’s more serious, AFib can be mitigated by surgical procedures to restore a normal heart rhythm.

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