According to a new study, drinking sugary drinks was associated with cell aging. The study revealed that telomeres – the protective units of DNA that cap the ends of chromosomes in cells – were shorter in the white blood cells of survey participants who reported drinking more soda. The findings were reported online October 16, 2014 in the American Journal of Public Health.
The length of telomeres within white blood cells – where it can most easily be measured – has previously been associated with human lifespan. Short telomeres also have been associated with the development of chronic diseases of aging, including heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer.
Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened sodas might influence disease development, not only by straining the body’s metabolic control of sugars, but also through accelerated cellular aging of tissues. This is the first demonstration that soda is associated with telomere shortness. Telomere shortening has previously been associated with oxidative damage to tissue,to inflammation, and to insulin resistance.
Based on the way telomere length shortens on average with chronological age, the researchers calculated that daily consumption of a 20-ounce soda was associated with 4.6 years of additional biological aging. This effect on telomere length is comparable to the effect of smoking, or to the effect of regular exercise in the opposite, anti-aging direction.