Aisling Bea: My fathers death has given me a love of men, of their vulnerability and tenderness

The comedians father killed himself when she was three. She was plagued by the fact he made no mention of her or her sister in the letter he left. Then, 30 years after his death, a box arrived

My father died when I was three years old and my sister was three months. For years, we thought he had died of some sort of back injury a story that we had never really investigated because we were just too busy with the Spice Girls and which one we were (I was a Geri/Mel B mix FYI). Then, on the 10th anniversary of his death, my mother sat us down and explained the concept of suicide. Sure, we knew about suicide. At 13, I had already known of too many young men from our town who had taken their own lives. Spoken about as inexplicable sadnesses for the families, spoken about but never really talked about terrible tragedy nobody knows why he did it. What we had not known until that day, was that our father had, 10 years beforehand, also taken his own life.

When I was growing up, I idolised my father. I thought his ghost followed me around the house. I had been told how he adored me, how I was funny, just like him. Because of our lovely Catholic upbringing, I secretly assumed that he would eventually come back, like our good friend Jesus.

My mother, being the wonder woman that she is, never held his death against him. When she looked into his coffin, she felt she saw the face of the man she had married: his stress lines had gone, he seemed free of the sadness that had been dogging him of late. But it was still tough for her to talk about. She didnt want to have to explain to a stranger in the middle of a party how he was not defined by his ending, but how loved he was, how cherished the charismatic, handsome vet in a small town had been. She didnt want his whole person being judged.

Once she had told us, I did not want to talk about him. Ever again. I now hated him. He had not been taken from us, he had left. His suicide felt like the opposite of parenting. Abandonment. Selfishness. Taking us for granted.

I didnt care that he had not been in his right mind, because if I had been important enough to him I would have put him back into his right mind before he did it. I didnt care that he had been in chronic pain and that men in Ireland dont talk about their feelings, so instead die of sadness. I didnt want him at peace. I wanted him struggling, but alive, so he could meet my boyfriends and give them a hard time, like in American movies. I wanted him to come to pick me up from discos, so my mother didnt have to go out alone in her pyjamas at night to get me.

I look like him. For all of my teens and early 20s, I smothered my face in fake tan and bleached my hair blond so that elderly relatives would stop looking at me like I was the ghost of Christmas past whenever I did something funny. You look so like your father, they would say. And as much as people might think a teenage girl wants to be told that she looks like a dead man, she doesnt.

Aisling
Aisling Bea with her father. Photograph: Aisling Bea

And then there was the letter.

My mother gave us the letter to read the day she told us, but, in it, he didnt mention my sister or me.

I had not been adored. He had forgotten we existed. I didnt believe it at first. When I was 15, I took the letter out of my mothers Filofax and used the photocopying machine at my summer job to make a copy so I could really examine it. Like a CSI detective, I stared at it, desperate to see if there had been a trace of the start of an A anywhere.

I would often fantasise that, if I ever killed myself, I would write a letter to every single person I had ever met, explaining why I was doing it. Every. Single. Person. Right down to the lad I struck up a conversation with once in a chip shop and the girl I met at summer camp when I was 12. No one would be left thinking: Why? I would be very non-selfish about it. When Facebook came in, I thought: Well, this will save me a fortune on stamps.

Sometimes, in my less lucid moments, I was convinced that he had left a secret note for me somewhere. Maybe, on my 16th no, 18th no, 21st no, 30th birthday, a letter would arrive, like in Back to the Future. Aisling, I wanted to wait until you were old enough to understand. I was secretly a spy. That is why I did it. I love you. I love your sister, too. PS Heaven is real, your philosophy essay is wrong and I am totally still watching over you. Stop shoplifting.

This summer was the 30th anniversary of his death. In that time, a few things have happened that have radically changed how I feel.

Three years ago, Robin Williams took his own life. He was my comedy hero, my TV dad he had always reminded my mother of my father and his death spurred me to finally start opening up. I had always found it so hard to talk about. I think I had been afraid that if I ever did, my soul would fall out of my mouth and I would never get it back in again.

Last year, I watched Grayson Perrys documentary All Man. It featured a woman whose son had ended his life. She thought that he probably hadnt wanted to die for ever, just on that day, when he had been in so much pain. A lightbulb moment it had never occurred to me that maybe suicide had seemed like the best option in that hour. In my head, my father had taken a clear decision, as my parent, to opt out for ever.

My father had always seemed like an adult making adult decisions, but I suddenly found myself at almost his age, still feeling like a giant child. I looked at some of my male friends gorgeous idiots doing their gorgeous, idiotic best to bring up little daughters, just like he would have been.

Finally, just after my 30th birthday, a box turned up.

The miserable people he had worked for had found a box of his things filed away and rang my mother (30 years later) wondering whether she wanted them or whether they should just throw them in the bin.

She waited for us to fly home and we opened it together three little women staring into an almost-abandoned cardboard box.

Now, most of the box was horse ultrasounds which, Ill be honest, I am not into. But there was also his handwriting around the edges and, then, underneath the horse X-rays and files, there were the photographs.

Any child who has lost a parent probably knows every single photograph in existence of that parent. I had pored over them all, trying to put together the person he might have been.

The photos in the box had been collected from his desk after he had died. We had never seen them before. They were nearly all of me. He had had all of these photos stuck on his desk. I was probably the last thing he looked at before he died.

My fathers death has given me a lot. It has given me a lifelong love of women, of their grittiness and hardness traits that we are not supposed to value as feminine. It has also given me a love of men, of their vulnerability and tenderness traits that we do not foster as masculine or allow ourselves to associate with masculinity.

To Daddy, here is my note to you:

Im sad you killed yourself, because I really think that, if you could see the life you left behind, you would regret it. You didnt get to see the Berlin wall fall or Ireland qualify for Italia 90. You didnt get to see all the encyclopedias that you bought for us to one day use at university get squashed into a CD and subsequently the internet. You have never got to hear your younger daughters voice it annoys me sometimes, but it has also said some of the most amazing things when drunk. I think you would have been proud to watch your daughter do standup at the O2 and sad to see my mother watching it on her own. Then again, if you hadnt died, I probably wouldnt have been mad enough to become a clown for a living. I am your daughter and I am really fucking funny, just like you. But, unlike you, Im going to stop being it for five minutes and write our story in the hope that it may help someone who didnt get to have a box turn up, or who may not feel in their right mind right now and needs a reminder to find hope.
Aisling

In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/nov/04/aisling-bea-my-fathers-death-has-given-me-a-love-of-men-of-their-vulnerability-and-tenderness

A moment that changed me: finding out that my dad was an Auschwitz baby | Namalee Bolle

The discovery that my real grandparents died in the Holocaust helped me understand my father and made me determined to help others, says artist and writer Namalee Bolle

Mum was sombre as she spoke, so I knew it was serious. Shes not the kind of mother who is unsmiling very often so when she is, its deeply unsettling. Her kind almond eyes were intense as she became the storyteller of the kind of drama you go to the movies for.

Oma is not your real grandmother. In 1943 she pretended Dad was her own baby that she lost in a miscarriage. She risked her life and saved your dad from the Nazis. Her voice became quieter as she told the family secret.

Your grandad handed Dad to her in the middle of the night with tears streaming down his face and never returned. Your real grandparents were Jews who died in Auschwitz.

As a 16-year-old teenager I was at my wits end about my erratic, volatile dad but suddenly it all made perfect sense. His rages, panic attacks and severe depression only seemed to worsen as the years went by, and he had an awful debilitating lung condition from which he struggled to breathe. Sometimes he was lovely comedic with a weird Dutch sense of humour that had us in stitches, but fun Dad didnt last long before he became gloomy Dad again.

Intuitively I knew in my heart he loved us and I tried to reach out to him, but it was monumentally challenging because I was still a child, and he was psychologically abusive to me and my younger sister whom I was ferociously protective of. Our home felt like a war zone where Shirani and I were fighting for our own survival, against our father.

My grandparents names were Leo and Hildegard Denneboom. My dads name was originally Leo too, but he was renamed Hans Bolle and grew up in Amsterdam. Jacoba Bolle, Dads heroic second mother, was married to Max Bolle, but he died of a heart attack when Dad was only 17.

Years later I would discover psychosomatic connections between unhealed grief and respiratory problems, but I know Dad wouldnt have listened. He was in denial of the root cause of his problems and refused help. It was as if he felt he deserved to suffer for still being alive. I believe this survivors guilt is what eventually led to his own death five years ago this summer, four years after his adoptive mother Jacoba died at 96.

Hans
Intuitively I knew in my heart he loved us . Hans Bolle. Photograph: Namalee Bolle

What dad really needed was a therapist like Dr Viktor Frankl, inventor of logotherapy, who was a Holocaust survivor himself, as documented in his brilliant book Mans Search for Meaning. Frankls existential method was highly relatable to our situation and he inspired me to train as a psychotherapist myself.

I didnt start to fully acknowledge I was a second generation Holocaust survivor until I was in my late 20s and well into my fashion career, having cofounded my own magazine SUPERSUPER! The ultra-bright, relentlessly positive tone and hyper-colourful styling were in fact born of coping mechanisms of growing up with the overarching burden of death and my dads colossal pessimism about his past. I also became aware of epigenetic inheritance the transferral of trauma through DNA that makes it more likely for me to be affected by stress so I learned mindfulness meditation and reiki to self-soothe and protect myself.

Dad simply did not know how to stop the pain spilling out of him and into us. He was tortured by his past and had no tools for dealing with it as emotional difficulties and mental health problems were not something a man felt comfortable admitting to at the time. Without the unconditional love of my incredible mother I do not believe he would have lasted as long as he did. I have thought endlessly about my grandmothers altruism in helping a baby in need while putting herself in grave danger. Thanks to her I would not think twice about adopting a child.

The discovery of my true background has given me the deepest awareness to search with tremendous empathy when determining the link between PTSD and the mental and physical symptoms it creates. Now I am going to honour my family and our bittersweet tale by helping others with their healing too.

Namalee Bolle is an artist and writer with a background in fashion and creative direction. Winner of the Guardian Jackie Moore award for fashion journalism, she was also fashion director for Sleazenation, co-founder of SUPERSUPER! magazine and has contributed to I-D, the Evening Standard and Vogue

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/11/a-moment-that-changed-me-mum-dad-auschwitz-baby

Brain game: how quitting routine tasks can help you learn new tricks

Daniel Glaser explains the benefits of taking on new challenges in middle age

Although his previous attempt at a career break, by becoming an apprentice shoemaker in Florence, didnt last long, it seems Daniel Day-Lewis is serious about retiring this time.

Maybe hes looking for a newchallenge. As we get older, work can feel more routine andeasy, which is born out in terms of brain activity.

Scans show tasks we are practised at often use less energy than novel activities we tend to do them more efficiently, and the mental energy required decreases. Were all familiar with this as our careers advance.

We also get more skilled at spotting our mistakes and rectifying them; as an old hand, you can notice when the edge has gone but you have enough tricks in the bag to make amends. This neuroprotective effect may be behind some of the results that show an apparent delay in symptoms of age-related cognitive decline for those more active in middle age. In this light a preemptive move, like Day-Lewiss, may be more sensible as we become over familiar with what we do.

It is perhaps typical of this most uncompromising of actors that hes quitting while ahead.

Dr Daniel Glaser is director of Science Gallery at Kings College London

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jul/02/brain-game-quitting-routine-tasks-to-learn-new-tricks

Feminism, politics and death: my mum died the night Hillary Clinton lost

They may seem like unrelated events but the end of Clintons campaign and my mothers life made me reflect differently on my own political career

My mother died the night Hillary Clinton lost. These might seem like two very unrelated events and youd be right about that. But for me, and my somewhat particular circumstances, Ive found a plethora of meaning about life and death, feminism and politics.

See, it was also the night I was due to be sworn in as a councillor for my local city council. It was my first political foray and Ive reflected on the start of my own political journey while on the other side of the world a smart and skilled female politician saw the end of hers, with our whole gender brutalised by a despicable Trump. And though Mum doesnt know it, all my political guts I got from her.

Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 days before the 2016 Australian federal election. Dad called me from Canberra to say he had taken Mum to hospital and she had acute pneumonia. I was going through the processes of my Labor nomination for council elections. With days to the federal election, every spare moment I wasnt working I was door-knocking and pre-polling.

I dont remember that first conversation with Dad. I do remember the call the next day when Dad told me Mum had terminal cancer (as well as acute pneumonia) and the cancer had spread through her ribs, spine and pelvis. I was at my desk so I booked a flight home and, as I headed out the door, asked a colleague to cancel me out of every election activity I was signed up for.

Breast cancer is a disease that inflicts itself predominantly on women. Its also one of the most misdiagnosed cancers around. Mum had her last mammogram only months earlier and it hadnt appeared. I grew bitter quickly.

At the same time this was a federal election where it was one bloke versus another bloke versus another bloke, and women barely seemed to get a mention. I had volunteered the bulk of my time on campaigns to support female candidates in tough Victorian seats, none who won. I sat bedside my mother who taught me everything and watched women largely erased out of public life.

On Sunday 3 July, a day after the federal election Mum was only in the second week of a disastrous five week stint in hospital my journal shows compassion draining out of me:

I suspect I will grow rough and battle hardened and unforgiving from this. A part of me hopes I will. Perhaps I will grow ruthless and mean and brutal like life and that might make me powerful like men. I dont think Mum will like the new me. Ill have an excuse to be mean now, finally.

I thought at length about quitting the council race. We didnt know the timeline Mums cancer was working to, although wed been told up to 24 months for stage four breast cancer. I was enjoying caring for her and all her needs. But quality of life for Mum was also about quality of life for her daughters and, honestly, I just always thought shed make it a little longer.

So I ran my council campaign in between working full time and flying back home to care for Mum, alternating every second weekend with my sister. Offering a parallel world to my campaigning life, my life with Mum gave me such relief. I loved the quiet nights I shared with her. From the carers bed in her room, I would lie facing her and would listen for her breathing as her lungs drew in air from her oxygen tank.

In late October, I won the third and final spot at the council ward elections; Mum went back into hospital and I flew home again.

While nothing can prepare you for the death of a parent I did everything I could to prepare myself. I read memoir and non-fiction (by women) and I talked with women who had experience, both personal and professional.

In the final days, as Mum slept sedated, I read A Very Easy Death by Simone de Beauvoir. It was the 50th anniversary of the translation of the French feminists account of her mothers death. The months of that death also mirrored my mothers own: a few long weeks over October and November.

De Beauvoirs mothers death was frightening to me because it was everything her maman didnt want. She wasnt ready for death and her medical wishes were not respected: the doctors operated on her even though she had begged de Beauvoir that she wouldnt let them touch her body. Her final moments were full of pain and distress. De Beauvoir wasnt even there as she had slept through the panicked phone calls from her sister.

I was not watching the US election results that afternoon and evening in November. Mum was at Canberras public hospice set amongst beautiful gardens and overlooking Lake Burley Griffin. For the last few days she had been heavily sedated. Mums breathing changed late in the afternoon and we knew, not long now.

In academia, philosopher Michel Foucault called it a heterotopia, but most of us might think of it as a bit of a headfuck, a space or place in time that has more meaning or relationship to another space than it might first appear. As my mum lay dying, I was in a room full of strong women with her. My cousin brought in the bad news from the US and I slumped in my chair beside Mum, overwhelmed by yet more insurmountable grief. I thought if I was back in Melbourne, if my mum wasnt dying, Id be at my council ceremony right now and Hillary might even have been winning but here I was in this awful parallel universe that happened to be real.

Mum died that night. A little after midnight, I woke from a light doze and Mum was turned slightly in her bed, facing me and she had stopped breathing. I leaned in close and checked for a pulse on her wrist. Her skin was so perfectly warm. The family all woke and we said our goodbyes.

I stayed with Mums body till morning. I picked out clothes for her as the nurses cleaned and dressed her. Then finally watched on as they are you ready for this? put Mums body into the transport bag. I followed the nurses as they pushed her bed down the hallway to the cold room, where I thanked them and having already said my goodbyes, left for my car and for my first day without my mum in a bleak, bleak new world.

In the months after, it was through the company of women, and particularly women who have lost their mothers, that I have found my feet again. I havent turned bitter and mean as I once thought or hoped I would. My feminism is softer with new compassion but also bolder with new militancy.

Im still finding my political feet, but Ive been elected to a council with majority women membership plus we have a female mayor and CEO too. At every council meeting I reflect deeply on the values, learnt from my mother, that drive my decision-making even if at times they wont make me popular.

I dont see much of Hillary in the news these days, which Im thankful for. It reminds me of Mum each time and when I do, bystanders watch me dab at my eyes and think she must really have liked Hillary. Little do they know that was the night my mum died.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jun/18/feminism-politics-and-death-my-mum-died-the-night-hillary-clinton-lost

Eating cheese does not raise risk of heart attack or stroke, study finds

Consumption of even full-fat dairy products does not increase risk, international team of experts says

Consuming cheese, milk and yoghurt even full-fat versions does not increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke, according to research that challenges the widely held belief that dairy products can damage health.

The findings, from an international team of experts, contradict the view that dairy products can be harmful because of their high saturated fat content. The experts dismiss that fear as a misconception [and] mistaken belief.

The results come from a new meta-analysis of 29 previous studies of whether dairy products increase the risk of death from any cause and from either serious heart problems or cardiovascular disease. The study concluded that such foodstuffs did not raise the risk of any of those events and had a neutral impact on human health.

This meta-analysis showed there were no associations between total dairy, high- and low-fat dairy, milk and the health outcomes including all-cause mortality, coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease, says the report, published in the European Journal of Epidemiology.

Ian Givens, a professor of food chain nutrition at Reading University, who was one of the researchers, said: Theres quite a widespread but mistaken belief among the public that dairy products in general can be bad for you, but thats a misconception. While it is a widely held belief, our research shows that thats wrong.

Theres been a lot of publicity over the last five to 10 years about how saturated fats increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and a belief has grown up that they must increase the risk, but they dont.

However, the governments health advisers urged consumers to continue to exercise caution about eating too many products high in saturated fat and to stick to low-fat versions instead.

Dairy products form an important part of a healthy balanced diet; however, many are high in saturated fat and salt. Were all consuming too much of both, increasing our risk of heart disease, said a spokesman for Public Health England. We recommend choosing lower-fat varieties of milk and dairy products or eating smaller amounts to reduce saturated fat and salt in the diet.

Givens and colleagues from Reading, Copenhagen University in Denmark and Wageningen University in the Netherlands analysed 29 studies involving 938,465 participants from around the world undertaken over the last 35 years, including five done in the UK.

No associations were found for total (high-fat/low-fat) dairy and milk with the health outcomes of mortality, CHD or CVD, they said. In fact, they added, fermented dairy products may potentially slightly lower the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Doctors, public health experts and official healthy eating guidelines have for many years identified saturated fats as potentially harmful for heart and cardiovascular health and advised consumers to minimise their intake.

That has led to consumers increasingly buying lower-fat versions of dairy products. For example, 85% of all milk sold in the UK is now semi-skimmed or skimmed.

Givens said consumers were shunning full-fat versions of cheese, milk or yoghurt in the mistaken view that they could harm their health. Young people, especially young women, were now often drinking too little milk as a result of that concern, which could damage the development of their bones and lead to conditions in later life including osteoporosis, or brittle bones, he said. Consuming too little milk can deprive young people of calcium.

Pregnant women who drank too little milk could be increasing the risk of their child having neuro-developmental difficulties, which could affect their cognitive abilities and stunt their growth, Givens added.

The most recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey, the governments occasional snapshot of eating habits, found that dairy products, including butter, accounted for the highest proportion of saturated fat consumption in British diets 27%, compared with meats 24%. But if butter was not counted then dairy products together were the second largest source of saturated fat, at 22%.

Saturated fat is a vital part of diet. The NDNS found that adults typically got 34.6% of their total energy from fats as a whole, just below the 35% the government recommends. However, while total fat consumption was just within target, saturated fats still made up an unhealthily large proportion of total food energy 12.6%, against the recommended maximum of 11%.

Givens said: Our meta-analysis included an unusually large number of participants. We are confident that our results are robust and accurate.

The research was part-funded by the three pro-dairy groups Global Dairy Platform, Dairy Research Institute and Dairy Australia but they had no influence over it, the paper said. Givens is an adviser to the Food Standards Agency.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/may/08/consuming-dairy-does-not-raise-risk-of-heart-attack-or-stroke-study

Cheap, widely available drug could stop thousands of mothers bleeding to death

Tranexamic acid could save the lives of a third of women who die in childbirth from excessive bleeding, which kills 100,000 a year

A cheap and widely available drug could save the lives of thousands of women who die in childbirth from excessive bleeding, one of the main killers of women worldwide.

The drug, tranexamic acid, is available over the counter in the UK to women suffering from heavy periods. In Japan and the far east, it is used as a skin whitener. But now a very large study of 20,000 women in 21 countries has shown it can stop a third of cases of bleeding to death after giving birth.

Haemorrhage after childbirth kills 100,000 women a year, mostly in low and middle-income countries. It is not only the women dying it is the impact on the child that has to grow up without a mother, children who might already be in the family and the husband, said associate professor Haleema Shakur from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine who led the trial.

This is of absolutely huge importance. While a single mother is dying, we need to keep fighting for them.

The drug has already been proven to cut the death toll from bleeding after accidents in a trial of similar size. The latest trial, published in the Lancet medical journal, recruited more than 20,000 women who either gave birth in one of 193 hospitals involved or managed to get there after starting to bleed. They were randomly assigned either tranexamic acid or a placebo.

The researchers found that tranexamic acid was most effective when it was given soon after the bleeding began. The trial was originally intended also to find out whether the drug saved women from having to undergo a hysterectomy the removal of the womb. But the scientists discovered that in many countries, where anaemia is common and blood supplies are limited, surgeons operated immediately as the surest way to save the womans life.

If all women who haemorrhage after childbirth were given the drug, the trial suggests that 30,000 lives could be saved a year. In practice, that will be more difficult. Tranexamic acid was given in an intravenous injection in the hospitals, as the quickest way to have an effect. Many women give birth at home and may not get to a hospital in time.

It is available in the form of a tablet for heavy periods, but absorption may take too long, said Shakur. They are now working on new ways to get it rapidly into womens systems perhaps as an injection in the arm muscle or as a capsule under the tongue. It is also possible that women deemed to be at high risk of haemorrhage could be given a tablet before they give birth. The trials have shown no side-effects, making the drug very safe.

Of the two-thirds of women who died in spite of being given the drug, Shakur said some arrived at hospital too late, while others had underlying illness including severe malaria and anaemia which may have been the cause of death.

It has taken a long time to show that the drug does work in the context it was designed for. Professor Ian Roberts from the London School, who co-led the study, said: The researchers who invented tranexamic acid more than 50 years ago hoped it would reduce deaths from postpartum haemorrhage, but they couldnt persuade obstetricians at the time to conduct a trial. Now we finally have these results that we hope can help save womens lives around the world.

There are many next steps, said Shakur. We have to make sure tranexamic acid is available wherever a woman gives birth and is at risk, she said. We must make sure doctors and midwives are aware of the results of the study. And we need health ministers to make sure that the drug is available in their country and is on their shopping list of essential medicines.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/apr/26/cheap-widely-available-drug-could-stop-thousands-of-mothers-bleeding-to-death-tranexamic-acid

Stroke and dementia risk linked to low-sugar drinks, study finds

Drinking a can of diet soft drink a day associated with almost three times higher risk, say researchers but critics warn against causal connection

Consuming a can a day of low- or no-sugar soft drink is associated with a much higher risk of having a stroke or developing dementia, researchers claim.

Their findings have prompted renewed questions about whether drinks flavoured with artificial sweeteners can increase the risk of serious illness, as heavily sugared drinks have already been shown to do.

Drinking at least one artificially sweetened beverage daily was associated with almost three times the risk of developing stroke or dementia compared to those who drank artificially sweetened beverages less than once a week, according to the American researchers who carried out a study published in Stroke, the journal of the American Heart Association.

After adjustments for age, sex, education (for analysis of dementia), calorific intake, diet quality, physical activity and smoking, higher recent and higher cumulative intake of artificially sweetened soft drinks were associated with an increased risk of ischaemic stroke, all-cause dementia and Alzheimers disease dementia, the co-authors write.

Those consuming at least a can of so-called diet drinks every day were 2.96 times more likely to suffer an ischaemic stroke and 2.89 times more likely to develop Alzheimers disease than those who drank them less than once a week, they found.

Ischaemic strokes occur when blood cannot get to the brain because of a blockage, often one caused by a blood clot forming in either an artery leading to the brain or inside a vein in the brain itself. They comprise the large majority of the 152,0000 strokes a year which occur.

Surprisingly, though, the research also contradicted previous studies by finding that sugared drinks did not raise the risk of either serious outcome. It is based on data for more than 4,300 participants in the Framingham Heart Study, a long-term medical research project in the United States.

To our knowledge, our study is the first to report an association between daily intake of artificially sweetened soft drink and increased risk of both all-cause dementia and dementia because of Alzheimers disease, the co-authors added.

However, they admitted that they could not prove a causal link between intake of diet drinks and development of either medical condition because their study was merely observational and based on details people provided in questionnaires logging their food and drink habits.

Matthew Pase, a senior fellow in the department of neurology at Boston Universitys school of medicine who was one of the co-authors, said that despite no evidence of a causal link, the apparent connection between sweetened drinks and the two conditions does identify an intriguing trend that will need to be explored in other studies.

This is not the first time that sweetened drinks have been implicated in the development of serious ill-health. The paper quotes the Northern Manhattan study as having found that daily consumption of artificially sweetened soft drink was associated with a higher risk of combined vascular events but not stroke. It also cites the conclusion of the Nurses Health study and Health Professionals follow-up study that greater consumption of sugar and artificially sweetened soft drinks was each independently associated with a higher risk of incident stroke over 28 years of follow-up for women and 22 years of follow-up for men.

Sales of diet versions of soft drinks have boomed in recent years as sales of fully sugared ones have declined sharply.

Defras Family Food Survey, published last month, found that sales of regular soft drinks fell by 34.6% between 2010 and 2014, while low-calorie drinks purchases increased by 35.8%. Now just 38% of all soft drinks consumed are fully sugared, it said.

However, experts and health charities warned against reading too much into the findings reported in Stroke.

This research does not show that artificially sweetened drinks cause dementia. But it does highlight a worrying association that requires further investigation, said Dr James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimers Society.

Naveed Sattar, professor of metabolic medicine at Glasgow University, said: This is an interesting paper, but I would strongly caution against the conclusion that artificially sweetened drinks may increase the risk of stroke and Alzheimers. There is little other strong evidence to support a link between artificially sweetened drinks and adverse health outcomes.

The results could have been skewed by people who had already become ill before switching to low- or no-sugar drinks, Sattar added.

Dr Mary Hannon-Fletcher, head of health sciences at Ulster University, said: These data are sound as far as they go. However, it is important to note the associations between recent and higher cumulative intake of artificially sweetened soft drinks and dementia were no longer significant after additional adjustment for vascular risk factors and diabetes mellitus as the editor also pointed out. So are the conclusions sound? Perhaps not.

Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, said: Despite their claims, the authors of this observational study admit they found no cause and effect and provide no science-based evidence whatsoever to support their theories.

In fact, based on the evidence, Public Health England is actively encouraging food and drink companies to use low-calorie sweeteners as an alternative to sugar and help people manage their weight.

However, Tam Fry, a spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, warned consumers not to see low- or no-sugar drinks as healthy. Dont be fooled by the use of the word diet. Diet drinks were dreamed up as a description by an industry wanting to lull you into believing that it was a healthy thirst-quencher. Whether youre thin or fat and thirsty, and not near a good old-fashioned tap, buy yourself bottled water, Fry said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/apr/20/stroke-and-dementia-risk-linked-to-low-sugar-drinks-study-finds