I’m a coffee drinker. I enjoy it in the morning and again around 5:00 pm, after my nap.

As a result, I was pleased to see the latest news that coffee actually reduces stroke risk. That particular issue has been a worry in recent months as I’ve struggled with occasional blood pressure spikes that have driven my systolic (upper) pressure above 200…and into stroke territory. On several occasions, those soaring numbers have also driven me right into the emergency room, at my local Sibley Hospital, for observation.

Conducted by researchers from Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute and Harvard University, this most recent study also showed that increased consumption of both sugar-sweetened and low-calorie sodas was associated with greater risk of stroke, the foundation of vascular dementia.

The news—published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and reported in the article "In with the Coffee, Out with the Soda" in the November 25 issue of the online journal Alzheimer’s Weekly—is especially worrisome for regular soda drinkers. In the past, we’ve seen evidence that sugary drinks were linked to a variety of health problems, including weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, gout and coronary artery disease. Now we can add stroke to that scary line-up.

On the other hand, drinking coffee—both high-test and decaf—was associated with lower stroke risk, in this latest study.

The report is compelling because the number of subjects studied was high. Researchers evaluated soda consumption among 43,371 men who participated in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study between 1986 and 2008, and 84,085 women who participated in the Nurses' Health Study between 1980 and 2008. During that time, 2,938 strokes were documented in women, and 1,416 in the men.

How sugar increases stroke risk and coffee lowers it

Noticing the increased stroke risk among regular sweetened soda drinkers, researchers concluded that the heavy sugar load created regular spikes in blood glucose and insulin, eventually leading to glucose intolerance, insulin resistance and inflammation.

Those physiologic changes in turn can influence atherosclerosis, plaque stability and thrombosis—all risk factors for ischemic stroke and dementia. Interestingly, the research team noticed that the stroke risk was higher for women than it was for men.

What explained the stroke risk-lowering effect of coffee? It contains chlorogenic acids, lignans and magnesium—all antioxidants that appear to reduce stroke risk. When compared with one serving of sugar-sweetened soda, one serving of decaffeinated coffee was associated with a ten percent lower risk of stroke.

The story in Alzheimer’s Weekly included other conclusions:

Browse Our Free Senior Care Guides

“In addition, study findings show that men and women who consumed more than one serving of sugar-sweetened soda per day had higher rates of high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol and lower physical activity rates. Those who drank soda more frequently were also more likely to eat red meat and whole-fat dairy products. Men and women who consumed low-calorie soda had a higher incidence of chronic disease and a higher body mass index (BMI). The investigators controlled for these other factors in their analysis to determine the independent association of soda consumption on stroke risk.”

Adam Bernstein, M.D.—study author and Research Director at Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute—said: "What we're beginning to understand is that regular intake of these [soda] beverages sets off a chain reaction in the body that can potentially lead to many diseases—including stroke."

Bernstein also offered a warning:

“According to research from the USDA, sugar-sweetened beverage consumption has increased dramatically in the United States over the past three decades, and it's affecting our health. These [new study] findings reiterate the importance of encouraging individuals to substitute alternate beverages for soda.”