Who can forget 9/11? Our lives have changed forever since then. Even though I live in Ohio far from Manhattan, I can remember that fateful day just like it was yesterday. I was in the middle of morning surgery when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. I joined the crowd that had gathered in the hospital lobby as soon as I could and watched another plane come crashing into the second tower.
Nearly 3,000 people died in lower Manhattan on that unforgettably tragic day. Since then, in an effort to prevent another 9/11, we have applied much of what we learned from that horrible event. As a result, everything from air travel to homeland security has changed.
Unfortunately, we don’t react with the same concern to other threats to our wellbeing, even when they kill many more people on a regular basis. For example, we are ignoring the lessons contained in two back-to-back reports, which also focused on Manhattan, about the dangers of diet soda drinking and salt intake even though day in day out many times more lives are lost.
Let me set the stage for you.
Just the other day I came out of surgery to talk to the family of the patient I had operated on only to find her husband sitting in the consultation room with a two-liter bottle of diet soda. When I asked about the diet soda, he responded, “I am trying to lose weight and eat healthy”.
Since then I have spotted many of the nursing staff and my physician colleagues consuming diet sodas on a regular basis. In-fact, the refrigerators in all the staff lounges are filled with diet soda cans. The reports I mentioned, known as the NOMAS Study (short the Northern Manhattan Study) and published in early 2011, point to the dangers of consuming both diet soda and salt, a common ingredient in diet soda. But no one seems to be paying attention.
Before I even get into that, let me clear up a misconception. It has long been known that diet sodas help very little, if at all, with weight loss. So not only are the diet sodas not shrinking your waistline, they’re endangering your health. How? Let’s explore the findings from the NOMAS Study.
The first of the two reports deals with the risk of vascular events among people who drink diet soda pops. The University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine in collaboration with Columbia University found a 61 percent higher risk for vascular events—including strokes—among 2,564 diet soda drinkers from upper Manhattan as compared to those who do not drink any soda. This report was presented during the American Stroke Association International Conference 2011 in Los Angeles.
The second report by the same group found that the 2,675 participants from upper Manhattan had a high incidence of stroke in proportion to salt intake. For each 500 mg of salt consumed over the recommended level, the participants’ stroke risk rose 16 percent. Since the multi-ethnic participants of the study consumed on average 1,500 mg of salt over the recommended limit, they ran close to a 50 percent higher risk of stroke than the participants whose salt intake was under the recommended limit.
To give you some perspective about how this impacts all of us, let us talk about stroke burden in America as reported by the CDC.
America's Stroke Burden:
- Stroke kills almost 130,000 Americans each year—that’s 1 in every 19 deaths.
- On average, one American dies from stroke every 4 minutes.
- Every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke. About 610,000 of these are first or new strokes. One in four are recurrent strokes.
- Stroke costs the United States an estimated $38.6 billion each year. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications, and missed days of work.
- Stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability.
Just to throw some additional light on the disability caused by a stroke let me share with you what happens when you experience a stroke on the left side of the brain. For starters, you lose function of the right side of your body including your right hand and leg. You also lose your ability to talk, even though you are still aware of everything going on. Just imagine being in this state.
Remember, having a stroke means that part your brain is dead—dead for good. Adding salt to your food and drinking diet sodas makes you 50 to 60 percent more likely to end up that way, just like the close to one million people who suffer strokes in this country each and every year.
In short, we have a dreadful, recurring situation in which our citizens are being killed at alarming rates, not just once but annually.
What are we doing with this information? Clearly not enough.